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Letter carriers to pick up mail — and food donations Saturday

MANATEE — Local residents are encouraged to put canned goods out by their mailboxes Saturday for the National Association of Letter Carriers food drive to help families in need.

With the tough economy, the need is up 22 percent this year, according to the St. Joseph’s food pantry and the Manatee County Food Bank.

On Monday, 19 newcomers who recently lost their jobs visited the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church food pantry, where some of Saturday’s food will be delivered and stored.

The National Association of Letter Carriers, in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Service, is asking for non-perishable, non-expired food items such as canned meats, fish, soup, juice, pasta, vegetables, cereal and rice. Food in glass containers can’t be accepted. All the food collected stays in Manatee County.

Post offices and carriers from around the county — Bradenton Beach to Lakewood Ranch and from Bradenton to Palmetto and Parrish — will be taking part in the food drive.

Each month, St. Joseph’s food pantry volunteers give bags of food to between 1,800 and 2,000 people.

There will be about 200 food pantry volunteers at St. Joseph’s for Saturday’s food drive. The volunteers will have tents and tables set up in the south parking lot of the church, where they will organize the food.

The National Association of Letter Carrier hopes the effort will produce 200,000 pounds of food for various pantry rooms.

“That’s a lot of heavy lifting,” said St. Joseph’s Church food pantry executive committee member Al Connizzo.

One pantry room Tuesday was loaded to the roof with vegetables, pork and beans, and, of course, oodles of macaroni and cheese.

“Three years ago we asked them, ‘If they could add one item to their food bag, what would it be,?’” St. Joseph’s Church Deacon Bob Nimon said. “Peanut butter? Tuna? No, they wanted mac and cheese. Overwhelmingly.”

The pantry also takes clothing donations.

Nimon said, “One man told me, ‘Do you have a shirt and tie? I’m going to an interview?’”

And the pantry did.

A drive last Christmas left the pantry with an extra $11,000, making purchasing pallets of food possible. “People were so generous last year,” Nimon said.

With continued job losses and an increasing demand for food, the time for generosity is afoot. Those once secure with full-time jobs could quickly find themselves homeless.

Nancy Thurkettle of the National Association of Letter Carriers once ran into a homeless women selling candles in front of a local Bed, Bath & Beyond. The woman had been in a car wreck and eventually lost her job.

“She said, ‘You might only be two or three paychecks from being me,” Thurkettle said. “And she’s absolutely right.”

Connizzo and Nimon notice that some of those who have been helped by such food drives turn out to be some of the most loyal donors.

“We do see people who used to come here,” Connizzo said, “and now they have jobs. So as a way to thank us, they give donations.”

Nick Walter, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7013.

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