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Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger

Mission to curb hunger keeps on truckin'

By Sonja Isger, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer, Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Even in Palm Beach County, one of the wealthiest in the state, people continue to be hungry.

This week, letter carriers will attempt to Stamp Out Hunger across the country by picking up canned stew with your letter to Aunt Sue.

Stamp out hunger
The 14th Annual National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food drive is Saturday, May 13. It is the country's largest one-day food drive.
How: Hundreds of thousands of South Floridians will get bags in their mailboxes this week to remind them to put out food, courtesy of Publix. But any bag will do. Fill any bag and letter carriers will pick up the food when they deliver the mail.
What food?: The drive asks for non-perishable food. Organizers say they want people to stick to canned foods. Meats, soups, stews, tuna. Stay away from dry goods, because they don't have a long shelf life in hot warehouses, said Keytia Ortiz, at the Daily Bread Food Bank in West Palm Beach, where the food will be stored.
Track record: Palm Beach County residents donated 381,624 lbs. in 2005. That's 100,795 more than they did in 2004. The Treasure Coast collected more than 175,000 lbs. in 2005. Moving food: Palm Beach County organizers say they'll need about 200 volunteers to sort the food as it arrives at two West Palm Beach warehouses. Additionally, each Post Office will have between 4 and 10 volunteers. About 25 to 30 trucks will deliver the food from Post Office to the warehouses. Delivery to the warehouses should be speedier this year: more loading docks. Last year, there was one, this year four. Once it's in the warehouse, the Daily Bread food bank, an affiliate of America's Second Harvest, has one week to move all the food in the main warehouse on Clairmore Drive and out to about 160 non-profit organizations that feed the poor in Palm Beach County.

South Florida organizers hope that once again Palm Beach County out-donates its neighbors and collects more than 400,000 pounds of groceries for the annual event.

That will refill pantries from Jupiter to Boca to the Glades.

But that's just a shot in the arm.

It's been two years since a USDA survey revealed hunger among the county's working poor was twice the national average and that their children fared worse than their counterparts across the country.

Before the survey was conducted in 2004, groups that fed the poor in this county weren't organized. A handful of people, the Hunger Coalition, met monthly and tackled specific needs. For example, they pushed to expand the number of places that offered summer lunch to children.

But they were loose-knit, small and without a budget. Then they got the various governments and charities to pay for a survey created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After the survey, everyone who had a role in feeding the poor came together and Community Food Security Council was born.

And one of their first acts? Buy a truck.

Dozens of churches and nonprofits in the county attempt to feed the poor with food supplied by the federal government or large food pantries but before they can give out that loaf of bread or frozen chicken, they have to get it.

Sometimes that means driving to Miami, the closest warehouse for The Emergency Food Assistance Program. In Pahokee, it would mean driving to the coast and back, said Tracey Lamport, who directed the survey from her office with the United Way of Palm Beach County.

Both trips are too long to make without a refrigerated truck.

Enter the $25,000, used refrigerated truck donors bought. The driver's salary is covered, too. The truck holds two dozen pallets of food, water — whatever is needed. And it's always on the move, sometimes making six stops a day, six days a week.

"We no longer have to rent a truck," said the Rev. Pam Cahoon of C.R.O.S. ministries, which runs four pantries and a hot meal program in the county. "Now we can use that money to buy food."

The truck also has made two other efforts possible.

The council has increased the number of sites that offer SHARE Florida, a volunteer program that delivers boxes of groceries at basement prices. The organization buys in bulk and cuts out the middlemen: distributors and grocery stores. What it could get for $38 at the grocery store, it can get for $15 from SHARE.

The number of sites in the county jumped from about 20 in 2004 to about 32 this year, according to SHARE. The truck was key in getting the food to outlying sites, particularly in the Glades, said Cornesha Dukes-Chisholm, director of the Pahokee Beacon Center, where 50 families pick up SHARE food monthly.

Also, the truck sometimes heads straight into the fields, to take food gleaned from donated swaths of farmland. The practice had died during the years, but was revived after the survey.

This year, county farmers allowed volunteers to pick tomatoes, green peppers and corn from their crops that would have totaled $77,000 had they been bought at the grocery instead, said Cahoon, whose organization manages the gleanings from winter to spring.

The next plan: another survey. This time to find out what food is available in poor communities, how people get there and how much they pay. "This allows people in those communities to look at what's being offered to them and to come up with solutions on their own," Lamport said.

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