Postal Service letter carriers are trained to go to your house and drop things off, but this past week they juggled that job with picking things up -- more than 300,000 pounds of food for the poor.
The weeklong "Harvest for the Hungry" -- an easy-as-pie charity event that ended yesterday and asked only that Marylanders give a few canned goods to the people who deliver their mail -- turned into one of the most successful food drives in recent memory. Postal workers in Delaware also helped out.
By late yesterday, those big tractor trailers the post office uses to haul phone bills, love letters and hate mail were still unloading goodies at the Maryland Food Bank warehouse in West Baltimore.
"People just like the joy and thrill of giving away food -- the physical act of giving food to someone who is hungry, and this made it as easy for them as possible," said Bill Ewing, director of the food bank. "If you can drag yourself from the kitchen to the front door, you could do this."
The idea started with post office workers in other parts of the country, but not with such "overwhelming" success as in Maryland, said Mr. Ewing, walking through the warehouse at 241 N. Franklintown Road as volunteers packed boxes for pantries around the state.
These off-season donations, given in the absence of societal guilt that often accompanies holiday food drives, may in the end rival the food bank's biggest annual campaign, the Thanksgiving "Bags of Plenty" event which collected about 400,000 pounds in 11 days last year.
"We're talking mega-food here," Mr. Ewing said, "But we're not going to end hunger any time soon."
Mountains of noodle soup, spaghetti sauce and green beans made it to the warehouse through the efforts of men and women like Dudley Bradburn, a 16-year veteran of the mails who delivers to 330 houses along Catonsville streets like Waveland and Edridge and Drummond.
To Mr. Bradburn, who guesses that he picked up about 500 pounds of food, the drive was a hit because of the closeness the carriers often enjoy with residents.
"The only time you see a fireman is when there's a fire, the only time you see police is when there's trouble, but you see the mailman every day," said Mr. Bradburn, who carries lollipops for youngsters and biscuits for dogs. "If you take your job seriously like I do, these people are like family members. Monday and Tuesday my truck was so loaded with food that I had to go back to the station, drop it off and come back.
"People out here are good neighbors, and this shows they care about other people, too," he said. "Before it even started, they were asking me: 'When are you picking up cans?
When are you picking up cans?' "
A man who counts his blessings, Mr. Bradburn said the example of the Postal Service could be easily copied. "We should always help the unfortunate," he said.
So be prepared early next month when the Boy Scouts of America once again take their turn.
The Scouts will be leaving plastic bags on door knobs in their "Scouting for Food" drive. The bags can be filled with non-perishable food for the Scouts to pick up.