Tonawanda News — It may have been the number of volunteers, or the newly distributed blue and white bags or even a sudden, area-wide boost in philanthropy.
As organizers of the annual Stamp Out Hunger postal food drive began to compute their final numbers over the past two weeks, they said they realized that this year was a particularly successful haul for an event that has taken place annually over the last two decades.
With thousands of items collected by hundreds of U.S. Postal Services employees throughout the Tonawandas on May 11, many local food banks will be able to sustain themselves through the summer, when student-run drives, a staple in the collection process, slows to a trickle as schools shut down.
Bonnie Shaffer, coordinator of the North Tonawanda Inter-Church Food Pantry, stopped short of calling it the most successful year yet. But with more than 65,000 pounds of food acquired in one day, it was close.
“We’re overflowing,” she said, adding that 40 volunteers helped pick up and pack away the thousands of items collected and that will feed 250 families into September. “The volunteers and the letter carriers say the new bags were a huge factor.”
Joanne Guercio, who runs the Salvation Army’s pantry across the Erie Canal in Tonawanda, said her outfit brought in 31,000 pounds of food, distributed it among seven area churches, a veterans group and stocked its own shelves as well.
Shaffer and Guercio both believe that the bags, new this year and covered with advertisements clearly stating when the collections would take place, bolstered the number of items collected. Post cards have been the traditional means of collection for years, which were easy to lose and didn’t necessarily serve as a solid reminder.
“I feel it made a huge difference,” Guercio said. “We definitely received more food than we did last year.”
The Salvation Army’s food pantry, which serves 130 families, will also be able to sustain itself through the summer because of the food drive, Guercio said.
“We are a food drive agency,” she said. “And we do have other food drives throughout the year. But we rely on the generosity of the community through their donations and monetary contributions. There is also an increase in need. I think that’s the case everywhere. Times are tight, families are finding it more difficult to make ends meet financially, while the cost of food is going up along with everything else.”
Shaffer said the Inter-Church pantry is considered an emergency service, with families or individuals who find themselves in a arduous financial positions able to come in once a month and stock up on a three-day supply of food. But it doesn’t last long. Despite, a better-than-average year for the Stamp Out Hunger drive, the need to bring in more still persists.
“We’re always looking for for the items that we turn over the most,” she said. “Cereal, canned pasta, Spaghettios. What kid doesn’t like Spaghettios? Personal care items are always needed as well because our clients cannot use food stamps to purchase them.”Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.