For many college students, the second Saturday in May means the end of school. To Fred Stork, it has meant fighting hunger for nearly 13 years.
Stork, a letter carrier with the Manhattan post office, is the coordinator of the city’s effort in the annual National Food Drive to “Stamp Out Hunger.” Since 1993, the drive has collected more than 1 billion pounds of food for pantries and food banks around the country. Branches of the National Association of Letter Carriers in every state participate.
“Well we were all involved, every letter carrier was going to do this,” Stork said. “We had a new president and he said ‘how would you like to take it’ and I said ‘I’ll try it for a year.’”
Each year on the second Saturday in May, people can put non-perishable food items in their mailboxes and put the flag up. Letter carriers will collect the food and then donate it—in Manhattan’s case, the food goes to the Flint Hills Breadbasket.
The drive has some major national sponsors including Campbell’s Soup and the AARP. Stork noted that each year Campbell’s donates 10,000 pounds of food to one of the participating post office branches. There are frequently local sponsors as well. In the past, K-State athletics teams have helped unload donations and signed autographs at events outside of Dillons. Hy-Vee has also printed a full-page color advertisement that ran statewide in their week’s promotions.
Stork said this year the Breadbasket is requesting donations of peanut butter and jelly (in plastic jars). Other typical donations include macaroni and cheese, canned fruit and canned vegetables.
Stork said Manhattan’s letter carriers took in about 10,000 pounds of food last year. He already has some new ideas for next year such as getting high school service organizations involved.
“In the last few years we’ve been steadily increasing (donations) and getting the public to understand this is a very easy way to donate food,”Stork said.
Stork said the drive is particularly important during this time of year because school is ending, which means many needy children will go without free or reduced lunches that schools provide.
“The more we can get right now, the better, because they don’t have food drives in June and July and August,” Stork said.
It took a few years to get the word out.
“The first year we did this we had a little over 300 pounds,” Stork said. “It was raining cats and dogs and nobody knew, nobody understood it and nobody believed it.”
Even after the word was out some people still weren’t on the same page. Stork jokingly recalled that carriers still find donations of cat food and dog food.
Even though it ends up being a long Saturday, the carriers are happy to work toward such a worthy cause. It seems to be a natural extension of the job.
“We see people every day,” Stork said. “You can’t be human and walk by people that have a problem and not doing anything about it—it would kill you after a while.”
Stork said working on the drive for the last several years has been beyond rewarding.
“It’s just a great feeling,” Stork said.