May 07, 2014 - Folks are encouraged to leave a little something extra for those less fortunate next to their mailbox on Saturday, May 10 as the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) conducts its 22nd annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive across the country.
Pictured: Janice Theriot (kneeling). Front row (from left): Diana Weigold, Rhonda Robinson, Lori Keen, Deonna Byrnes, Vicky Haist and Steve Davis. Middle row (from left): Lynda Bernstein, Curt Thomas, Pam Prestriedge, Ellen Dipple. Jeff VanEvery and Bill Rowe. Back row: Kim Haist (left) and Keith Ballor. (click for larger version)
Mail carriers from the Oxford and Lake Orion post offices, along with volunteers, will be collecting nonperishable food items for the Oxford-Orion FISH food pantry.
"It makes me feel really good to think that I'm a part of an organization that makes other people happy," said mail carrier Vicky Haist, who has served as the drive's local coordinator for about 16 years.
FISH provides free groceries to people in need living in Oxford, Orion, Addison and Oakland townships.
Last year, the volunteer-run, nonprofit group distributed 148,631 pounds of food to 235 households consisting of 940 individuals. Last month, FISH distributed 12,490 pounds of food to 167 households consisting of 377 individuals and took on 13 new clients.
"There's a great need here," said FISH Pantry Worker Coordinator Sue Black. "There's hungry kids, there's hungry people, there's hungry seniors. The clients that come to us are so grateful (for providing) the shopping experience. We offer meats and fresh produce. We offer fresh dairy (products). We offer canned goods, cereals, toiletries. It's just a real blessing to our community."
Black said the NALC Stamp Out Hunger food drive is critical to help keep FISH's pantry shelves well-stocked and its clients well-fed.
"This is one of our biggest (drives) of the year by far," she said. "We count on this one – this time of year especially – to stock our pantry and carry us through until the holiday (season) when we have our second biggest drive."
Last year's Stamp Out Hunger drive collected more than 28,000 pounds of food for FISH.
"We did phenomenally well last year," Haist said. "We more than doubled our food intake from the year before."
There's no limit as to how much food postal customers can donate on Saturday.
"They can give as much as they want to," Haist said.
Customers along both city routes and rural routes are invited to donate whatever they can to the effort.
Haist, who's spent 30 of her 32-year career at the Oxford Post Office, said they'll start picking up food from customers at about 11 a.m. and finish up around 5 p.m.
"We're not done until the last carrier comes in," she said.
A few days prior to the drive, letter carriers will be including with their customers' mail a reminder card and a bag in which to place food items.
Food drive sponsors Rite Aid Pharmacy and Genisys Credit Union provided the bags, while inmates from the Oakland County Jail folded them for delivery.
In addition to traditional nonperishable food items, Haist has seen people donate soda pop, baby food and paper products like toilet paper.
"We accept anything and everything," she said. "Some people even put money in an envelope and say, 'Here, this is for FISH.'"
Perishable food items are the only things they don't take.
Black said overall, the total number of individuals using the FISH pantry is down right now and the group is taking advantage of this time "to stock up."
"We're noticing a decrease in clients, which is a good sign, obviously," she said. "But we continue to get new clients all the time, too. We're always taking on new clients."
Black explained that some clients are "seasonal" such as people who do construction work. Their use of the FISH pantry depends on "how work is going."
But no matter how much FISH's client numbers fluctuate, according to Black, there will always be a certain number of folks – people living on fixed incomes, senior citizens, folks with health issues – who will require the pantry's services to survive.
"We have a lot of clients whose situation is not going to change," she said. "We're just going to be a constant in their life."
According to Haist, the Oxford and Lake Orion post offices are part of a larger branch that consists of 1,000 NALC members. This branch collected 208,000 pounds of food for last year's Stamp Out Hunger drive, the sixth largest haul in the nation, she said.
"We're advertising (the food drive) more and more," she said. "I think that's why we're more successful every year."
In 2013, the Stamp Out Hunger drive collected more than 74 million pounds of food to help restock food banks, pantries and shelters around the country.
Black noted the FISH pantry is "always looking for more volunteers."
"Our pantry's open Monday through Thursday. They can come and see what we're about," she said.
The FISH pantry is located at 487 First St. in the unincorporated Village of Thomas, located in northern Oxford Township. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (248) 628-3933.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.