Harvest for the Hungry goal, area to expand

Postal workers to collect food in drive across state

March 09, 2000|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

State officials, food providers and corporate sponsors will announce today the largest goal in the history of the annual Harvest for the Hungry food drive -- the collection of a pound of food for every Marylander in poverty.

That means the 13-year-old drive, in which postal carriers collect non-perishable items along their mail routes, will go statewide for the first time and aim to gather at least 440,000 pounds of food.

Starting Saturday, more than 11,000 postal employees will volunteer at 16 postal hubs around the state, loading the food collected on tractor-trailers that will distribute it to local food banks.

Organizers will formally announce the effort this afternoonwith an event featuring state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, former governor and chairman of the 2000 commission, at the Maryland Food Bank.

The goal is only enough food for a two-week supply for the Maryland Food Bank, which distributes food to providers around the state. But with the food bank's cupboards largely bare, executive director Bill Ewing said the effort couldn't be more timely.

Demand at food pantries continues to be brisk -- especially among working people whose dollars don't stretch far enough. A recent survey of Maryland providers found usage of soup kitchens and pantries had increased by about 59 percent in the past year.

Another problem is waste control efforts by food suppliers, which have curtailed donations.

"We're simply not getting the food from the food industry, and our shelves are empty," Ewing said yesterday. "It roars in, and it roars out. We have seen no slaking of the demand."

The drive will run through March 18. Last year, Harvest for the Hungry -- held just in Baltimore and surrounding counties -- collected 100,000 pounds of food, twice its goal.

This year's effort was expanded with the help of the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000, which was organized to start a series of projects in honor of the year.

Executive director Louise Hayman said that the group wanted to include a human service project and that expanding Harvest for the Hungry seemed a natural choice. "The legacy of this project is to raise the bar on food drives," she said.

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation paid for mailings to go to 1.2 million Maryland households this week, reminding residents about the upcoming drive. Several chapters of the Maryland Jaycees have agreed to try to raise awareness about it in their own communities. Carefirst Blue Cross Blue Shield donated television ads. The Capitol Area Food Bank, which covers Prince George's and Montgomery counties, also will participate, as will other county food banks.

With the extra exposure, "I think we can raise tons and tons of food," said Larry Adam Jr., founder of Harvest for the Hungry. "When an individual can leave food right out next to their mailbox, you can't get much easier than that."

Food drive organizers said they are especially in need of canned tuna, salmon, and chicken; peanut butter and fruit jelly in plastic containers; dried pasta, milk and rice in boxes; and canned low-salt stews and vegetables.

Donors can either leave food near mailboxes or take it a local post office. Irene Lericos, spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service Capital metro area, which includes Maryland, said postal workers are eager to reach the drive's larger goal.

"It's kind of like an extension of the role we have today in the country," said Irene Lericos, "A lot of our employees are delivering hope. The letter carriers know what's going on [with hunger]. This gives them an opportunity to give back."

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