STAMP OUT HUNGER

Yvette Martin, executive director of United Way of Southeastern Oklahoma, holds up bags from Walmart and Allen’s Market, while next to a blow-up of a food can at Country Mart this morning. Bags from the three stores are being attached to a number of post cards as part of the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive set for Saturday in McAlester.

McAlester residents can help feed the hungry this weekend without ever leaving home — by making a donation to the 19th Annual Help Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.

All they have to do is fill a bag with food items. Then, their local letter carrier will pick it up and make sure it’s delivered to a local food bank, soup kitchen or other site in need of food.

In McAlester, the food drive is a shared project between the National Association of Letter Carriers and the United Way of  Southeast Oklahoma.

It’s set for Saturday.

“We’re asking people to put non-perishable food items in a bag and leave it by their mailbox,” said Yvette Martin, executive director of the local United Way office.

Both the United Way and the letter carriers are hoping for lots of donations.

“This is the biggest one-day food drive” in the nation, said John Browne, president of the local chapter of the National Association of Letter Carriers union.

“We’d like to encourage everyone to participate.”

Letter carriers plan to start leaving post cards with information about the food drive in mail boxes today.

This year, some McAlester residents will see something different — a plastic bag attached to a post card to make it easier to have a bag handy for donations.

Country Mart, Walmart and Allen’s Market all donated bags for the drive, said Martin. Not all of the residences in McAlester will receive a bag attached to the post card, but about 8,000 of them will, she said.

Browne said the Jackie Brannon Correctional Center helped with the project by having inmates staple the cards to the bags.

“It’s a community effort,” he said.

Most of the donations in the past have been in the form of canned food.

“We prefer non-expired items and no glass,” Martin said.

Plans call for all of the food donations to be made locally.

“We give it to food banks and soup kitchens, so everything stays here,” Martin said.

Among the planned recipients are Good Samaritan Outreach, the First Christian Church and All Saints Episcopal Church, with several more expected to be added, Martin said.

Last year, donors gave more than 7,000 pounds of food — and those conducting the drive are hoping more is donated this year.

“There is a need, because one in five families are food insecure households — they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Martin said, quoting national statistics.

Browne also noted the high number of people who are at-risk.

“At least 20 percent of Oklahomans and Americans as a whole are at-risk of going hungry on a particular day,” he said.

Those who are helped by the project include two groups which are especially vulnerable — children and the elderly.

Many children depend on school lunches and breakfasts to help them through the day, but with school set to be out soon for the summer, children will no longer have that help available.

Martin noted that resources at food banks are often lower this time of year.

“Our food pantries get depleted for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she noted.

“We need to replenish our food pantries.”

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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