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Gainesville food drive hits home today
Mail carriers to collect donations at residents' mailboxes
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Today, anyone with a mailbox can be a humanitarian.

Those who want to help fight hunger in the area need not trek to local food pantries or soup kitchens to do their part. Instead, they can just leave donations of nonperishable foods in a bag at the mailbox today.

In the 16th annual "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive sponsored by the National Association of Letter Carriers, Gainesville mail carriers will pick up donations of nonperishable food items from local mailboxes today to deliver to the Chattahoochee Baptist Association's Good Samaritan Food Ministry.

The nationwide food drive comes at the perfect time of year for area food banks, when the need is greater and the donations are smaller, said Natasha Daniels, public relations manager for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

"We're going into what is known as ‘summer hunger,'" Daniels said.

Summer hunger is a phenomenon that begins at the end of the school year when children are no longer guaranteed two nutritious meals a day at school. Daniels said the situation results in malnourished students returning to school in the fall.

"Now some of those in need may be home all day, and may not get the opportunity to get all three meals ... it ends up putting an extra strain on what needs to be provided at home," Daniels said.

Last year, the "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive generated a donation of 200,000 pounds of food to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which serves 38 counties around the state's capital. The donation comes at a time when most people do not think to give to the less fortunate.

The waning awareness of those in need in the warmer months is one of the reasons "summer hunger is such a big issue," said Daniels. "A lot of times people remember to donate and think of those in need around the holiday season."

This year is especially difficult for those living on low or fixed incomes, said Gene Beckstein, founder and director of the Good News at Noon feeding program and homeless shelter. He said that 50 more people have started coming to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at Good News at Noon in the past couple of months. On Thursday evening alone, nearly 200 people walked through the doors of the Davis Street ministry.

Beckstein, whose program does not receive food from the National Association of Letter Carriers' food drive, said the increase in participants came at about the same time as an increase in oil prices and other staples.

"Because the food prices have gone up, (the need has) really (increased), Beckstein said.

Although the "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive is nationally coordinated, all food donations stay local, said Drew Von Bergen, national coordinator of the letter carriers' food drive.

"The aim is to keep it as local as possible..." said Von Bergen. "The idea is that it be in the general area of where the food is collected so the people in that town in need are going to benefit from it."

Out of 40,000 addresses that receive mail from the Gainesville post office, Gainesville residents have donated between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds of food in each of the past few food drives, said Kevin Cook, coordinator of the Gainesville leg of the drive. And for the last three years, those donations have been going to the Chattahoochee Baptist Association's food pantry.

This week, mail carriers have delivered post cards letting area residents know about today's nationally coordinated food drive, and Cook expects a good response from the donations.

"I've seen on some routes ... trucks have to come back to drop off the food so they can keep delivering the mail," said Cook.

"On my route, which is all the area around Atlanta Highway and up by the airport, I had a real positive response on the days I was handing out cards."

Those who want to participate should have their donations out by the mailbox by the time their mail carrier usually delivers the mail, but those who miss the opportunity on Saturday can also leave their donations out on Monday, said Cook.

"We'll pick it up anytime. We're not particular," Cook said.

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