First class effort Featured

9:32am EDT July 22, 2002

At first glance, what is most impressive about the National Association of Letter Carriers' (NALC) Stamp Out Hunger food drive is the sheer enormity of the amount of food collected in one day.

In less than 10 hours in 1999, the Cleveland NALC --in conjunction with the United States Postal Service -- collected a record 481,267 pounds of food for local food centers and shelters. That is the largest one-day food drive in Cleveland's history.

The 2000 campaign was also impressive, with 427,044 pounds collected in Cleveland and 64.2 million pounds collected nationwide.

But it isn't just the amount of food collected and distributed, or the fact that Cleveland ranks in the top 25 cities in the nation and has been first in Ohio for four years, that makes the group unique. It's the commitment. For the NALC to be able to collect more than 400,000 pounds of food in one day, it needs volunteers, and a lot of them.

The 2000 Stamp Out Hunger campaign brought together 2,023 letter carriers and 547 of their family members, and 73 members of the U.S.P.S. management, 613 clerks and 2,916 food pantry and shelter personnel, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, National Guard, senior groups, church groups, county employees and others to make up the 6,202 volunteers working that day.

The 2,023 letter carriers constitutes 100 percent participation on the part of local carriers.

Just in case you're not impressed yet, think of it this way: In one day, the "letter carriers double and triple their workloads," says letter carrier Richard Bilski, Food Drive coordinator.

The volunteers have been known to work 12- and 14-hour days to finish their route, pick up the food and deliver it to the recipients. The estimated dollar value, including labor, supplies, transportation and the food itself, is $1.6 million.

Not bad for one day of work, especially when you consider that this one-day food drive assists in keeping the doors open to 90 local food banks and shelters over the high traffic summer months. Organizations including Meals on Wheels, St. Augustine Services, Hunger Network, Harvest for Hunger and Catholic Charities receive canned and nonperishable items that feed some of the estimated 95,000 Greater Clevelanders who go hungry every year.

According to Bilski, "All time, labor, coordinating, pick-up, transportation and delivery of the collected food donations is volunteered by the NALC."

But, he is quick to note that none of this could happen if there weren't a huge amount of community cooperation.

"We have a lot of pride, a lot of community involvement, and we have good leadership," he says.

The NALC gets the word out well in advance of the food drive. About 95 million postcards are sent to area postal customers, informing them about how the drive works. This targeted approach has helped the program achieve a nationwide increase of more than 50 million pounds since the first food drive in 1991.

Bilski says the motivation to increase the collection every year comes in part from the letter carriers' commitment.

"The letter carriers are out there," he says. "They see the need. They see the homeless and it touches them and motivates them and all of that comes into play."

When the letter carriers are not preparing or executing the awesome task of collecting close to half a million pounds of food, Bilski and his co-workers busy themselves with raising funds and creating awareness for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). Throughout the year, they volunteer their time to deliver care packages to children attending MDA Summer Camp, recruit teams for the MDA annual golf outing and volunteer for the annual Labor Day Telethon. They also work with the United Way, conduct blood drives and work with local orphanages.

The commitment to helping others doesn't end after one day. It's a yearlong job for Bilski and his co-workers. And, he claims, he is never short of volunteers.

"I can get help at the drop of a hat," he says.

He says his co-workers feel fortunate to have what they do.

"We try to share what we have with the less fortunate," he says. How to reach: NALC, (216) 241-4035 or (216) 443-4130

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.