Letter and rural carriers, and their customers, helped the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) collect more than one billion pounds of non-perishable food during the 18th annual “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive last month.
The drive has been a huge success in communities everywhere, including Hillsboro, OH, and Elizabethtown, KY, where community outreach plays an instrumental role in the yearly event.
Retired Elizabethtown clerk Pete Countryman and Hillsboro Postmaster Curtis Pegram spend countless hours in the months leading up to the food drive meeting with local officials, civic groups and business owners making pitches for support.
Countryman conducts what he calls a “face-based initiative” by attending public meetings to educate officials on the urgent need for food donations.
So far, he’s been met with success. During an Elizabethtown City Council meeting the mayor read a proclamation declaring May 8, 2010, Letter Carrier Food Drive Day. The Chamber of Commerce president was named celebrity letter carrier and helped collect food donations on the day of the food drive with a letter carrier and his son.
Countryman mailed letters and flyers to more than 70 churches, requesting a notice in their Sunday bulletins, and was given a free advertisement on the local cable access channel.
He tried something new this year, blending in the old with the new by recruiting Elizabethtown High School to hold a food drive at the school.
“We engaged the youth by encouraging them to use their skills of social networking to promote the drive among friends, family and fellow students,” said Countryman. “They did an individual food drive at the high school and came and helped unload food at our docks.”
And now he’s already looking ahead to 2011. “My intent is to involve all four high schools and establish a traveling trophy program to recognize the school that collects the most.”
Pegram already has a trophy program in place, awarding first, second and third place trophies to every grade level in all five school districts in the county. Trophies are provided by the local Rotary Club.
“We challenge students to draw their best food drive drawing,” said Pegram. Some of the pictures are hung at the Post Office, which has been dubbed the Children’s Arts Museum of Hillsboro.
“What really gets you is when a child brings their parent into the Post Office and says, ‘That’s mine, mom’ and the mom cries,” he said. “It’s great for the kids and the community.”
But Pegram sees the art contest as much more than just drawing a picture: “We are planting the seeds of knowledge to many generations about the Postal Service. Children asking mom and dad what a mail truck looks like or what a mailbox is for while drawing LLVs and our logo at the kitchen table is not any kind of marketing you can buy.
“Our basic goal has gone from just a food drive to changing the minds of the public towards the Post Office,” he added. “We have used it as a launch pad to embrace the community.”
Pegram’s commitment and persistence also resulted in the donation of 125 acres in Hillsboro County being donated for growing food.
“The drive is great, but food pantries need donations all year,” he said. “We now have 12 gardens.”
It seems the more Pegram gets out and talks to people, the more the donations flow in. While talking to a local Minister’s Association, Pegram learned one of the members manages a worldwide seed ministry. Now Pegram’s got 200 seed potatoes in the truck of his car with more seed promised.
When he stopped by the John Deere dealership to see what the chances are for getting a poster hung, Pegram started telling the owner about the community gardens. The conversation ended with: “Whenever and wherever, I’ll send a guy over with the resources to take care of the land for free.”
Pegram also hosted a food pantry summit, inviting reps from the 11 food pantries in Hillsboro County. “I wanted to know all of the players: How big are you? Do you have refrigerators? Can you transport?” The end result was the creation of a network called Food Pantry Alliance which allows each of the pantries to network and share resources.
“This has exploded,” said Pegram. “To see all of these people pull together is unbelievable. It’s expanded from the city of Hillsboro into the county and all seven Postmasters have locked arms. Part of my contract says, ‘You will engage as Postmaster.’ I am engaged.”
“The level of giving in this small city of 20,000 is a reflection of its sense of community and charitable giving,” Countryman said.
Countryman was joined by another retired clerk, his father Clifford, who celebrated his 85th birthday offloading food from trucks which in the end amounted to a record 12,000 pounds.
“That’s what it’s about: postal employees, the communities they serve, and family and friends helping those in need,” said the younger Countryman.