When the postal carriers of the McLean set out to serve their community, they mean it.
During the recent Stamp Out Hunger food drive, mail carriers from the central McLean office collected over 9,000 pounds of food to donate to Share Inc., a food pantry that operates out of the McLean Baptist Church.
"The food they provided will keep our pantry stocked for at least six months," said Vic Kimm, president of Share. "It’s a big deal for us."
The summer months see no decline in the need for the services Share provides, said Ben Byrd, a volunteer in the Share food pantry.
"We had enough food in the pantry to last us until the next drive in October, but this will supplement it for quite a while," he said. "During a thirty-day period, between 100 and 150 people will come to us for food, and many will come back month after month."
Serving residents of Great Falls, McLean and Falls Church, Share relies heavily on the donations of good neighbors to keep hungry families fed.
"This may be the most food we’ve ever received in one drive," Byrd said.
As a mail carrier for sixteen years, David Ford has been collecting canned goods and other food items for Share and has it down to a science.
"People will leave plastic bags at the door so when I go to pick up the mail, I put their bags in the truck and sort it later," he said. "I collected one full tub from an apartment building… I think I collected 11 full tubs this year, and each tub can be stacked one foot high with metal cans."
Collecting canned goods is a simple way of giving back to the community, Ford said.
"I try to do my best to help," he said. "We make good money, we make good benefits, it’s right to give back."
SHARE WAS CHOSEN as the food bank to receive donations because "we wanted to keep it in the community," said ten-year carrier Scott Arnold. "Share is local and does so much for the community, we wanted to help them out."
The volunteers at Share are "good people," as are the residents of McLean who donate their canned food, pasta and cooking necessities, he said.
"A lot of times it’ll rain when we do the collection," Arnold said. "People won’t put food out because they don’t want it to get soaked, or they’ll forget when we’re collecting, but if I see a bag out on a porch, I’ll pick it up."
"Sometimes we’ll get food here a month later with the postal flier in the bag," Byrd said.
Between a week to a week and a half prior to the collection, usually held the Saturday before Mother’s Day, fliers donated by Campbell’s are put into mailboxes and slots to notify residents of the collection. Campbell’s is a major sponsor of the nation-wide event, along with the United Way, the AFL-CIO and America’s Second Harvest, a national food bank.
Once the food is collected, it is stored at Share’s food pantry, in the basement of the McLean Baptist Church.
"When Share was started in 1969 by pastor Thomas Jackson, he provided the space for us to use," Byrd said. In addition to a shelved storage room, an overflow room and space in the church’s garage are used to keep the food collected from this and other food drives held throughout the year.
"Twenty-six churches and one synagogue support our efforts and help to keep our food bank stocked," he said. "The church keeps enough food in the office if anyone comes to the door and needs food when Share is closed, but we are open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. and Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and noon."
"The need seems to be year-round now," said Jean Respass, food room chairwoman.
"We’re seeing new faces these days. The need has grown, but luckily we’re able to give out food to people twice a month now because people in McLean are so generous," she said. Previously, a family could only receive food from Share once a month.
The McLean Post Office’s food drive is "absolutely wonderful," Respass said. "It helps us restock our pantry. It’s so worthy and helps us immensely."
In addition to canned foods, the Share pantry is always in need of paper products, cooking oil, mustard, mayonnaise and mustard, Byrd said. "We always have cases and cases of peanut butter and soup, there’s always lots of tuna. We seem to get a lot of cranberry sauce and pumpkin too," he said.