Delivering hope: Stamp Out Hunger food drive turns 25

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 5/12/17

In the late 1960s, a retired businessman named John van Hengel established the nation’s first food bank after encountering a mother rummaging through a grocery store dumpster so she could feed her children.

Twenty years later, the president of …

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Delivering hope: Stamp Out Hunger food drive turns 25

Posted

In the late 1960s, a retired businessman named John van Hengel established the nation’s first food bank after encountering a mother rummaging through a grocery store dumpster so she could feed her children.

Twenty years later, the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers took note of a successful food drive hosted by Phoenix, Arizona Branch 576 and took steps to replicate it nationwide.

A pilot drive was held on Oct. 26, 1991, at 10 branches in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Long Island, New York; Columbus, Ohio; Peoria, Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; Northeast Florida; San Antonio, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and San Jose, California.

“The Postal Record,” NALC’s monthly magazine, reported that the 580,000 pounds of food collected exceeded expectations and set records at several food banks.

A food bank spokesman in San Antonio reported that their warehouse was filled to capacity.

As NALC leaders proceeded with plans to recruit at least one branch from all 50 states to participate in the next food drive, they switched the date to the spring at the request of food bank directors.

“With so many Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives, food banks often start running out of food in the spring. And because it would have been too difficult to turn around and do a drive in early 1992, NALC set the first nationwide drive for Saturday, May 15, 1993,” “The Postal Record” reported in a recent article.

In 1992, approximately 220 branches collected 11.7 million pounds of food.

Cartoonist Bil Keane, an Arizona resident, promoted the drive in his popular “Family Circus” comic and continued to do so until his death in 2011. The cartoons were also used on other promotional materials with Keane’s blessing.

“Keane’s drawings served as a sort of unofficial logo for each year’s drive,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said in a tribute to Keane. “His characters were so familiar to our customers that when you saw the image of Billy, Jeffy, Dolly or P.J. on a promotional poster, bag or T-shirt, it seemed as if a close, trusted friend was encouraging you to dig deep to help feed the hungry.”

Keane’s son, Jeff, now produces the artwork for the food drive.

By the late 1990s, the annual effort had been given a name, “National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.”

Donations nearly doubled from 44 million pounds in 1996 to 73 million pounds in 1997 after NALC teamed up with Campbell’s Soup Company to produce reminder postcards.

Last year, letter carriers in 10,000 cities in all 50 states collected 80 million pounds of food on the second Saturday in May, which has been the official day of “Stamp Out Hunger” since 1994.

Walker County contributed 20,000 pounds of food to that total — a respectable figure but far below the 60,000 pounds collected in 2008.

The need is great. More than 10,000 people in Walker County are categorized as food insecure by Feeding America, a national network of food banks established by van Hengel in 1979.

These families may not be going hungry every day, but sometimes they don’t have enough food to ensure that everyone in the house is active and healthy. They could also be surviving on a diet of junk food in order to save enough money to pay rent or take a sick child to the doctor.

Supporting the Salvation Army Food Bank, which receives the Stamp Out Hunger donations, is more important than ever at this time because the school year is coming to an end.

Children who get two hot meals a day at school during the week and take home a backpack of food on weekends from Backyard Blessings will be relying on food bank donations to get them through the summer.

Participating in the food drive is easy. Just leave a donation of nonperishable food items in your mailbox or in a sturdy container beside it on Saturday morning.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.