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May 10, 2014

Mailbox charity drive draws bags full of food

More than 46k pounds collected just in Terre Haute

TERRE HAUTE — Driving up and down Hulman and Vorhees streets between 7th and 13th streets on a pleasant Saturday morning, Ernie Smith and John Etling picked up close to three dozen bags of food left on porches and by mailboxes to help the food insecure.

“It’s a nice morning for it,” said Smith, a retired pilot who heard about the food drive and volunteered to help collect the bags distributed last week by the mail carriers. “Not too hot or cold.”

Etling, director of Terre Haute Catholic Charities, was glad for the mild temperatures, too, as he worked up a mild sweat trotting from porch to porch and then back to Smith’s SUV.

The  effort was part of a citywide food drive by the National Association of Letter Carriers to Stamp Out Hunger. The annual food drive involves individuals placing bags of non-perishable food at their mailboxes for letter carriers and volunteers to pick up and deliver to a local food bank.

In Terre Haute, the Catholic Charities Foodbank was the destination of the gathered bags. From there, the food will be sorted and distributed to participating food pantries throughout the Wabash Valley.

“We raised 73,000 pounds last year. That was the most we’d ever done,” said Keith McElroy, food drive coordinator for local Branch 479 of the NALC, adding that the national average for a city this size is 50,000 pound.

“This community is great,” McElroy said. “They know there are people in need here. I can’t say enough about how great this community is.”

More than 30 volunteers showed up to help collect the food, taking routes all over the city. About 10 mail carriers were volunteering on their days off, or as retirees, he said. And local postmaster Diana Egold was very cooperative in helping get the collection bags distributed by last Thursday.

“We like doing what we hope we’re all doing, and that’s helping each other out,” McElroy said.

By 11 a.m. Saturday, only about 1,300 pounds of food had been collected. It was a slow start, said food bank director Tom Kuhl, but he expected most of the food to start arriving after 4 p.m. when the mail carriers had finished their routes and were ready to drop off their collected bags.

By 6 p.m., the count was around 46,000 pounds collected in Terre Haute only and delivered to the food bank. Additional collections from outlying counties will also be added to the food bank’s final collection amount.

Anyone who has a bag that did not get collected can still drop off the bag at the Catholic Charities foodbank at 1356 Locust St., or call 812-235-3424 to have a volunteer come get it.

The Stamp Out Hunger food drive is in its 22nd year nationwide. It benefits local food banks and shelters through a partnership with Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. Last year, letter carriers collected more than 74 million pounds of food, feeding an estimated 30 million people nationally. During the past 21 years, the drive has collected more than one billion pounds of food.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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