Stamping Out Hunger, One Bag At A Time

May 17, 2017

Who visits almost every home, no matter how rich or poor, and is tapped into communities on a ground level? WMRA’s Jordy Yager takes a look at how postal workers are helping to fight hunger.

BOB HAWKE: No food yet, but I just started…

Shortly before 10 on Saturday morning, postman Bob Hawke and his 19-year old son Trevor set out for the day.

BOB: Remember, like we did the other years…

Bob’s been a letter carrier in Waynesboro for 33 years. This is the 25th year in a row that he’ll help lead one of the largest single-day food drives in the nation. It’s called Stamp Out Hunger.

BOB HAWKE: Well, the food drive is the opportunity for people to put, instead of driving to the food bank, they can just put it out in front of their house and we’ll pick up the food… and so it’s kind of an easy way to do it, and you know, people need the food, we’ve got to try and do what we can to help, so…

Every year the National Association of Letter Carriers holds this drive. Locally, they partner with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which feeds 114,000 of the poorest people across 25 counties and eight cities in Virginia. Last year, Stamp Out Hunger provided 317,000 pounds of food, or 264,000 meals.

Michael McKee is the CEO of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

MIKE MCKEE: It’s all about the timing. This is coming in in May. We really need to stock the shelves because the summer months, we really see a spike in demand. Think about it, when you’ve got kids at home and they’ve been getting free and reduced lunch and breakfast at school, they’re now home. You’ve got teenagers that are eating a whole lot of food. Families who are already struggling are hard-pressed to put food on the table in the summer months. So this allows us to really put food on the shelves in our warehouse and then get that right back out again to people who need it.

Earlier in the week every mailbox got an empty plastic bag, with instructions to fill it with nonperishable foods. And sure enough, Bob and Trevor were only a couple houses into their lengthy route when they saw their first blue grocery bag sitting on a woman’s front porch. She poked her head out her front door.

WOMAN: Hi! 

BOB HAWKE: Hi!

WOMAN: Thank you gentlemen!

BOB HAWKE: Thank you

TREVOR HAWKE: Thank you

It was like this for most of their route. Drop off the mail. Pick up some bags. Bring them back to the truck. Drive to the next loop.

And you’d never know it if he didn’t tell you. Bob’s 61 and he’s been working with a broken toe.

TREVOR HAWKE: It’s crazy, he’s like 60 years old. I don’t know how he still does it. He’s a maniac.

And so Trevor, his son, who just finished his first year at Blue Ridge Community College, came along.

TREVOR HAWKE: Yeah, I haven’t done it in several years. But I’m doing it this year because he’s hurt. I thought I’d help him out. I did it a lot when I was a little kid. I did it every year before I was 14, but then I started working and all that.

BOB HAWKE: Alright Trevor we’re going to put this in the back.

TREVOR: Alright.

All over Central and Western Virginia, all over the country, letter carriers hauled food back to the post office. Truck by truck, thousands of pounds came in. A half-dozen volunteers worked the loading dock out back, sorting the food into bins and loading them onto a giant truck headed to the Food Bank’s warehouse. Odessa Sphips homeschools her three young children, and thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be a great lesson?’

ODESSA SPHIPS: I think it’s great to give back to the community and also to show kids to kind of get out of their comfort zone and go out and serve people and I think it also teaches them to love other people and see the needs other people have.

The need is real. In Waynesboro, last year, they brought in 19,000 pounds of food, a 7,000-pound increase from the year before. This year they’re trying to beat it. McKee says that 40 percent of the 114,000 people the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank serves are under the age of 18. And the rest? McKee says, they’re the invisible poor.

MCKEE: People you really wouldn’t expect to see. So, more and more of the folks we’re serving are working families. These are folks who lost good jobs in the recession and are scrambling, cobbling together maybe one or two part time jobs, they’re working shifts, their schedules aren’t necessarily predictable so they don’t have a chance to even get a second job often times, working without benefits. Six in 10 of the households we serve fall into that category.

Back out with Bob Hawke, around mid-day he sends his son Trevor home to walk their dog. They’ve delivered mail and picked up food from more than 100 homes so far, but this next loop is going to be different, Bob says. He doesn’t think he’ll need Trevor’s help.

BOB HAWKE: I figured this would be a good loop to do myself, because there’s a lot of people that live on this loop who go to the food bank to get food, so there won’t be too much put out on it…

And he’s right, out of the more than 50 residences, we only pick up two bags. And that’s the nature of poverty. It lives right next to affluence. But postal carriers, they serve them both. One bag, one parcel, one can, at a time.