October 7, 2008

Donate Food at Mailbox

By Ann Piccininni Daily Herald Correspondent

Donating food to the local food pantry is as easy as sticking a letter in the mailbox this Saturday.

That's when mail carriers will pick up food pantry donations placed in bags near mailboxes as they deliver mail and collect outbound pieces.

It's the 16th annual National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive, an effort that helps keep families fed nationwide.

Local donations, picked up by Naperville mail carriers, will help the Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville.

"It's our largest drive of the year," said Jody Bender, Loaves and Fishes community relations coordinator, adding that organizers hope to top last year's haul of 30,000 pounds in donated items.

"That lasted us about two weeks," she said.

Bender said donors should place non-perishable items such as canned goods, cereal, rice, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter in bags and leave them next to their mailboxes.

"The carriers will pick it up when the mail is delivered," she said.

Bender said there is a year-round need for donations. The need recently has become more acute.

"We're seeing an increase in people (using the pantry) because of economic conditions and the increases in prices for food and gas," she said.

Bender said about 250 families visit the pantry each month, located at 556 W. 5th Ave., just south of Naperville North High School.

The nonprofit organization also makes 150 to 200 home deliveries per month to seniors and disabled people.

Though any nonperishable food item is welcome, Bender said, there is a particular need for several items, including low-fat and low- sodium foods.

"Cereal is a hot button for us. That's been harder to get donated," she said, adding that small-sized diapers also are needed.

The pantry also accepts donations of paper products and toiletries, such as toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo, items that cannot be purchased with food stamps.

Bender said donations received through the Letter Carriers Food Drive is first taken to the post office where they are weighed. Then the collected items will be taken to a Nicor Gas facility where they will be sorted by volunteers who work for local companies, including Nicor.

"The pantry gets so crowded that it's very hard to maneuver and sort everything and have it ready for the people," she said.

The nonprofit organization, in its current location since 1992, is planning to move to a larger facility near Route 59.

"We definitely need more space. It's something we've been wanting to do for so long," Bender said.

Food is distributed from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays and 9 to 11 a.m. Saturdays.

Though individual and group contributions are appreciated and needed, Bender said pantry personnel look forward to the spring Letter Carriers Food Drive because it helps keep the pantry so well- stocked for an extended period.

"It's the scale of it," she said.

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