Update: 5/14 3:52 p.m. Did opportunistic thieves help themselves to some of the Stamp Out Hunger donations in Los Angeles? Unfortunately, yes. There were isolated reports on Saturday of unofficial vehicles driving down streets and taking off with the food bags, which were intended to be donations for the National Association of Letter Carriers' annual food drive.
"It's sad to think that someone would even do that, but that's the world in which we live," says Richard Maher, Los Angeles spokesman for the Postal Service. "It's not that much ... but we have had some instances of theft."
There are two ways to view this kind of thievery: that the crooks were creeps trying to get some free Cheerios. Or, the nicer but sadder interpretation is that the people who took the food were poor and hungry, a reality in Los Angeles and across the United States. (Which, of course, is why Stamp Out Hunger exists.)
"That's what I like to think, that maybe somebody really needed it for their family," Maher says. "It's too bad that they don't go through the proper channels, because that food goes right to the food bank in a local community."
Original post, published 5/11: If you normally regard your mailbox as a receptacle for bills, this Saturday you can consider it a force for good, helping to feed hungry people throughout Los Angeles. May 12 marks the return of the letter carriers' Stamp Out Hunger food drive, a nationwide effort to stock the pantries of food banks, which continue to experience high demand by Americans needing help feeding their families.
This is the 20th year of the food drive, which benefits Feeding America, the country's largest hunger-relief group. Last year, Americans donated more than 70 million pounds of food during the one-day event. On Saturday, some 210,000 letter carriers across the United States will collect the donations and deliver the bags to local food banks and hunger-relief organizations in more than 10,000 communities.
Hunger is a very real issue in the United States, according to a statement by Feeding America: "Right now, millions of Americans are struggling with hunger. These are often hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot make ends meet and are forced to go without food for several meals, or even days."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says more than 17 million households in this country face what is called "food insecurity," meaning they lack consistent access to enough food.
To participate in the Stamp Out Hunger food drive, simply place a bag containing nonperishable foods next to your mailbox before your mail delivery person arrives. Or, if you're like us, take out the bag just as the mail truck moves on, forcing you to run wildly after it. If that happens and you can't catch the truck, no worries, you can take the bag of food to any post office on Saturday, according to Richard Maher, Los Angeles spokesman for the United States Postal Service. (Check the hours of your local post office; they vary depending on location.)
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"The bottom line is the food actually does help people in your neighborhoods," says Maher. "It's a great concept and it's so easy for people to participate. Just put out a bag of food and the letter carriers do the rest."
Suggested nonperishable items to put in the bags include canned soups, meat, fish, vegetables, fruits and juices. Boxed goods such as cereals also are needed, as are bags and boxes of pasta and rice. The only restrictions are not to donate items in glass containers and please make sure that nothing is past the expiration date. (And do not donate any foods that need to be kept cold or frozen.)
Maher points out that pet food also is needed. He explains that many people these days, especially struggling senior citizens, have trouble affording food for their animals.