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Don't forget to hang a bag of non-perishable food donations on your mailbox on Saturday (May 14) to help the needy in the community.
That’s the date of the 30th annual National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. Local donations remain here and go to those in need in Marion County.
The nationwide food drive – which by 2010 had “surpassed one billion pounds” of food, according to the NALC – hasn’t been held since 2019 due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
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The Interfaith Emergency Services (IES) warehouse in downtown Ocala serves as a collection and redistribution point for the drive. With food levels critically low at the facility, the massive amounts gathered in the drive are sorely needed, according to IES CEO Karla Grimsley-Greenway.
"Right now, we need (the donations) desperately," Grimsley-Greenway said.
IES warehouse volunteer Francis Martin highlighted the acute need for food donations.
"I've been a volunteer here six years and I've never seen the warehouse this low," Martin said.
The Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive is always a blessing for area food banks
Steve Clem, IES food distribution manager, said the warehouse received 127,838 pounds of food from the last Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, held in 2019.
IES has spent perhaps as much as $200,000 over the last two years to replace the missed donations, Grimsley-Greenway indicated.
The Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive in May helps IES in the summer, when donations tend to go down. Experts worry about summer, when children aren't in school and able to get school-provided meals.
IES officials said the number of families with six or more verified members seeking help from the agency has increased from 23 in February to 109 now.
Here is how the food drive works
Letter carriers from three Ocala-area post offices will gather the donations on their routes on May 14 and deliver the donated food at the end of the day to the Interfaith warehouse in downtown Ocala.
Clem said IES provides food to local agencies including the Salvation Army, HELP Agency of the Forest, Brother's Keeper Ministry of Blessed Trinity Catholic Church and His Compassion Food Bank.
IES itself also serves as a food pantry, providing food to individuals and families at the warehouse.
Timothy Legge, a retired local letter carrier, is helping organize the local Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. He said having the drive was optional this year, and planning had to be done quickly.
Legge encouraged all residents to “put out one can,” and said the results would be very impactful on local need.
A look at the shelves is all you need to realize how badly supplies are needed
A recent visit to the IES warehouse revealed some empty shelves and a lack of staple foods – but a lot of candy.
IES warehouse staffer Maxi Rodriguez emphasized the need for more food while IES driver Bruce Reed went through boxes of Mombo candy bars and marshmallow treats.
Chaston Liming likes working in the IES warehouse to "help families."
The IES warehouse has been operating on donations from individuals and local churches. Several donors came in on May 3.
Diane Roxburgh brought in 418 pounds of food donated by members of The Way Independent Christian Church on Southwest State Road 200, while Ed and Brenda Haffey carried several bags and other food into the warehouse.
Ed Haffey said the couple is aware there are people who "need help” here and the warehouse is "always low” on food.
Dwayne William, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Summerfield, dropped off a large container of baked good donated by Panera in Ocala.
William regularly makes the pickup and drop off to "help the less fortunate."
Eric Miller was handling food distribution to applicants who came into the IES pantry desk on May 3.
Tennyson Lewin came for a supermarket buggy filed with food. He said his wife, Doreeen, has cancer.
Steve Myers with the IES warehouse offered to pray with a woman who came in for food help but preferred not to give her name.
Letter carriers are happy to see the food drive back in business
Cruz Cintron, head of the local branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers said he's "thrilled" the drive is resuming.
Cintron said the 127,838 pounds of food collected and delivered by the letter carriers of the Ocala Main Post Office and Paddock and Maricamp branches in 2019 was the top poundage amount in the country.
"The Paddock Branch donations filled three semitrailers," he said.
Courtney Salem, permanent supportive housing case manager with IES, said around her home in Paddock Park South the annual drive is a “big deal.”
Legge said Swift Transportation loaned the letter carriers semitrailers for use during the drive.
Letter carrier Gary Smith has been involved in the Stamp Out Hunger Drive since it began. His mail route includes an area of Southeast 17th Street and Lake Weir Avenue.
Smith said on the day of the drive, letter carriers will have a long day, starting by sorting out mail at perhaps 8 a.m., running their routes, and then delivering the donations to IES warehouse, possibly helping up to 8 p.m.
Smith said the hard work, which gets “critical support" from postal authorities and management, is worth it.
"You get to see the good (the drive) does, especially at the IES warehouse," he said.