COLUMBIA — Crackers, canned beans, instant noodles, popcorn, grapes and frozen beef. These foodstuffs, usually found in stores, will be found bagged and sitting next to mailboxes on Saturday.
In the week before the annual National Association of Letter Carriers food drive, in which people are asked to leave nonperishable food near their mailboxes for letter carriers to collect to help the poor, both sponsors and donators spoke of the importance of these donations at a time when the economy is down.
It is especially important at this moment because of the rising unemployment and weak economy, Kathleen Huser, a 55-year-old farmer, said, adding that besides participating in the letter carrier food drive, her family also takes active part in other community food donation drives.
"It's important for those who have to share with those who don't have," she said.
In Columbia, 75 letter carriers at the area's two post offices will be involved in picking up food on the day of the food drive, said Joyce Herron, postmaster in Columbia's main post office. Seven rural carriers, who are not officially part of the program, will also do their part to help collect food in the rural areas, she said.
"Millions of families are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table," she said. "Food pantries are trying to keep their shelves stocked as the newly unemployed and working families try to stretch their paychecks in the current economy."
The letter carrier food drive, the largest one-day drive in the U.S., started in 1993 in Columbia, Joyce said.
Last year, carriers in Columbia collected 161,900 pounds of food while nationwide they collected 73.1 million pounds, she said. "We carriers will do for the poor whatever we can," she said.
The majority of people at the receiving end are working families, the elderly and children. Seventy percent of the donated food in Columbia goes to working females with at least one child, she said.
The food will be sent to co-operatives such as Feeding America, the nation's food bank network, which will in turn give the food to local agencies and food pantries to make it accessible for those in need.
The food drive makes the public aware of the need for food, said Mike Desantis, spokesman for the Central Missouri Food Bank. The food bank distributes food to people in need through a network of 145 agencies in 32 Missouri counties.
"It's never a one-day event, just as hunger is not a single-day issue," he said.
Desantis said the food bank spends nearly 99 percent of the funds it receives for food. "We are milking every dollar to provide food out of the door. If it doesn't help get food out of the door, we are not interested."