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Opinion Shapers

Steve Unger

It’s always gratifying for me to learn that people actually read this humble little column, and it’s even more of a thrill when somebody thinks it’s providing a useful service.

I recently got a note from a reader named Bob Rapisardo, who explained that he’s the St. Louis-area coordinator for the post office’s annual food drive, which is happening this Saturday, May 11. Bob asked me to write a reminder note to encourage you good people to support their worthy cause. So consider yourself urged.

Actually -- based on what I can tell from their public information sites – the food drive isn’t a program sponsored by the Postal Service per se, but rather a tremendous effort conducted through the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) . . . the group of people that most of us used to call “mailmen.”

The NALC members are teaming up with Feeding America, the country’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, to collect and redistribute food items for millions of needy people this week. Appropriately named “Stamp Out Hunger,” the annual event is now in its 21st year, and it’s evidently having more of a valuable impact than ever.

In 2012, participating letter carriers across the country gathered food donations from 10,000 communities, large and small, and accumulated more than 70 million pounds of food. That meant putting meals on the table for millions of our fellow citizens who may not have had anything to eat otherwise.

It’s estimated that more than 50 million Americans are undernourished on a regular basis, including nearly 17 million children. Considering the tons of food that get thrown away every day around the U.S., it’s just shameful that so many people are starving. The timing of the letter carriers’ food drive in May is important, because a lot of those hungry kids are at least getting meals at their schools while classes are in session, but often go hungry during the summer.

Also, many average folks equate charitable drives and food donations with the holiday seasons, especially Thanksgiving. As most of us sit around intentionally overeating from November to January, it’s easy to be reminded about our abundance and the stark contrast between the haves and have-nots. But summer can be a different story altogether. Instead of cookie recipes, the magazines and TV commercials are promoting swimsuit bodies and weight-loss programs at this time of the year. For anybody who doesn’t know where his or her next meal is coming from, that kind of irony must be doubly painful.

In our comfortable suburban existences, we often tend to forget about the millions of people in our community who don’t have enough to eat. But the letter carriers interact with the poor almost every day, reaching out into depressed neighborhoods that most of us never see. The face of hunger is common in those places. No reminders are necessary.

The Feeding America organization annually distributes almost 3.4 billion pounds of donated food and grocery products to thousands of food banks and other hunger-relief agencies. Their collective efforts help to provide groceries to some 37 million Americans every year, including 3 million low-income seniors – many of whom are often too proud or embarrassed to ask for assistance.

This week, if you’re out shopping for Mothers’ Day presents or simply running your normal errands, make a note to remember our letter carriers and the less-fortunate families who will benefit from their Stamp Out Hunger food drive. Pick up a few extra things, and then on Saturday, please put a sturdy bag with some non-perishable food items out by your mailbox.

Suggested donations include canned soups, stews, vegetables, chili, tuna, etc., or non-glass containers with items such as peanut butter. The organization also accepts boxed, dried food products like cereal, pasta, rice, powdered milk and so on. Just think: you could literally be saving lives.

I always hope that these columns of mine will generate some food for thought. This week, let’s see if we can drum up the real stuff.

Steve Unger has been professionally writing for 30-plus years to help companies sell stuff. His Journal columns are a labor of love to salute the people, places and charm of St. Louis. If you’d like to share a memory of St. Louis or just drop him a line, he can be reached at