MANATEE -- Oswald "Ozzie" Antonetty delivers mail Mondays through Saturdays for the U.S. Post Office's Palmetto station on a route that runs along the city's major business and residential sections.
Most days are routine for the 15-year post office veteran, but there's at least one exception.
Every year for the past decade on the Saturday before Mother's Day, Antonetty and other letter carriers pick up non-perishable food in bags left by the mailboxes of charitable residents for delivery to local food banks.
"This is the way we give back to the community," Antonetty said Friday, speaking for his fellow carriers. "We feel we are helping."
The National Association of Letter Carriers' annual "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive will occur in post offices throughout Manatee and Sarasota and nationwide Saturday.
Letter carriers from post offices in Palmetto, Ellenton, Parrish, Myakka City and Bradenton Beach will be collecting for the Food Bank of Manatee, said Kristen Theisen of the Food Bank.
The other post offices in Manatee County, including most Bradenton stations, will be collecting for St. Joseph Catholic Church's food pantry, said Antonetty, who helps coordinate the food collection.
"We try to divide and share among the different food banks in the area," Antonetty said.
Plastic bags donated from Publix were placed in mailboxes this week.
"People can put the food close by the mailbox or hang it on the hook of the box," Antonetty said. "At the same time we are picking up food, we will deliver the mail."
Most needed food items this year include peanut butter, jelly, canned tuna, ham and chicken, beans and powdered milk, said Laura Coyle with All Faiths Food Bank, which will be the beneficiary of Sarasota letter carriers' collections.
"We prefer cans and non-perishable items because our trucks get too hot for perishable things," Antonetty said. "But if someone wants to give us a frozen turkey, which has happened, we will just find a way to get it to the pantry right away."
Actually, the Food Bank of Manatee will provide Antonetty with a van and two drivers to run relays to relieve carriers who are loaded with food, Antonetty said.
A strong result from Stamp Out Hunger is important in Manatee County because 24,000 children are on free and reduced lunch at county schools and will be on summer break at the end of May, Theisen said.
"Going into the summer we try to keep the shelves of the Manatee food bank stocked because there is increased demand when school kids are not getting lunch at school," Theisen said. "It's always difficult this time of year because people are thinking of vacations and camp and hunger is not foremost in their minds, as it is at holiday time."
The Food Bank of Manatee collected 23,000 pounds of food in 2013, Theisen said.
"This is lower than in previous years," Theisen added. "We currently distribute more than 80,000 pounds of food per week, about 350,000 pounds per month, which is up about 20,000 pounds per month over 2013."
To balance out the dip the past few years in Stamp Out Hunger, the Food Bank of Manatee is hosting its 2nd Annual White Out Hunger party 6-9 p.m. June 5.
"It's a fundraiser at a private home on Palma Sola Bay," Theisen said. "We ask everyone to wear white in support of the campaign. It's $50 per person. We have cocktails, entertainment and food and raffles. Last year we had 100 guests and raised $5,000."
To sign up for White Out Hunger or for information on how to assist The Food Bank of Manatee, go to foodbankofmanatee.org or call 747-4655.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.