ELYRIA — The largest one-day food drive in America brought more than 20,000 pounds of food to the Elyria Salvation Army.
In its 27th year, Stamp Out Hunger is a national movement held the second Saturday in May with letter carriers across the country collecting nonperishable food items on their postal routes. The donations are left out by residents and carriers load them in mail trucks or carry them in satchels before taking them to local pantries or food insecurity programs.
For carriers out of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 196, those donations go to the Elyria Salvation Army, stocking pantry shelves and emergency food bags for families.
The drive had its stops and starts throughout the day, worrying Salvation Army workers because what is collected needs to keep shelves stocked through the end of October. But when the drive was over, this year’s total topped last year’s by about a ton, according to the union’s Facebook page.
Postal carrier Michael Sprachmann, who services the Eastern Heights neighborhood, came in on his day off to help tote bags of food from walking routes in his pickup. He said this is his fourth year participating in the event.
“I volunteered today. Our union does this every single year, we always try to promote as much as possible, try to talk to as many people as possible to bring out food. … I figured I’m not doing anything else this weekend, it’s a nice day, so I might as well help everybody else out.”
Walking through the pantry Saturday afternoon — with about two hours left to go in the drive, Salvation Army Maj. Robert Sears gestured to bare shelves as he talked about the importance of Stamp Out Hunger.
“This food gets us to fall, to September, October, November, December when our Christmas stuff starts coming in.”
He said anything that wasn’t covered by donations the Salvation Army will get from either Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio or Walmart.
“We do what we can the best we can do, and somehow we get by,” he said.
Helping to unload and sort cans of vegetables and boxes of mashed potatoes and cereal were about 30 Midview High School sophomores from a program at Lorain County Joint Vocational School. The students come every year as part of Mathias Hauck’s career exploration class.
One student was 16-year-old Kali Seddon. Dodging classmates as everyone sorted through the latest mail van of the afternoon, Kali said this was her first time volunteering with the Salvation Army, but plans volunteer more in the future.
“I’m glad that I could be a part of this, and I’m glad to actually get back out into the neighborhood and start volunteering more because I stopped volunteering once I started high school,” she said.
She added, “If there aren’t churches or Salvation Army to help out people who are in need, then nobody’s going to. There aren’t a lot of people who would just go out of their way to help them out.”
Salvation Army case manager Rebecca Haywood said the nonprofit’s food programs service about 275 to 300 families a month — as many as 20,000 individuals a year. Pockets of residents — many in Lorain Metropolitan Housing or the south and west sides of the city — use the pantry to make ends meet, even if they’re on food stamps.
“Bottom line, if we don’t get enough we would eventually have to close the pantry at some point, and that means really for people who come in, then they’re really going to be stuck,” she said. “Because they would probably have to go to other pantries, again they’re limited how often they can go to those places. They do rely on us pretty heavily.”
According to the Second Harvest Food Bank, Lorain County has a 13.2 percent food insecurity rate, which jumps to more than 20 percent for children. Haywood said the Salvation Army’s clients are split between older individuals or couples and families with young children, meaning they need everything from low-sodium tomato sauces to staple peanut butter and jellies for the kids. She said as if the pantry has a shortage, it will put less in the emergency bags rather than completely close its doors.
The Salvation Army provides an emergency three-day bag program, meant to serve a family of four. She and Sears agreed the nonprofit is in desperate need of larger cereal boxes — which can feed more family members than the smaller boxes from Second Harvest.
Summer is a busy time for the Salvation Army, Sears and Haywood said, as children are out of school and eating at home. While Haywood tries to direct them to food programs at school buildings in the summer, many still rely on the Broad Street-based pantry. The Salvation Army pantry operates Monday through Thursday.
The Salvation Army accepts donations throughout the year — not just during events or holiday seasons. Donated items will be used in its pantry, emergency bag program or its hot meal programs. It is especially in need of canned meats like tuna or chicken and cereals and also can take fresh produce, Haywood said.
“For a lot of these families, they’re working,” Haywood said. “That’s the shame of it is that it’s not that they’re not trying their hardest. They are working and trying to provide for their family, but they do need some pantries to help finish out that grocery list and we happen to be able to fill that void for them.”
The Salvation Army, 716 Broad St., is open 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Friday.
For more information, call (440) 323-2026 or email Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org.