Friday, May 2, 2003 | 3:32 a.m.
WEEKEND EDITION: May 3, 2003
U.S. Postal Service letter carriers in Las Vegas had a lot to be proud of last year when they collected 655,000 pounds of food during the nationwide Help Stamp Out Hunger food drive. Las Vegas' collection was the 18th largest in the United States.
But, considering that they collected a local record 675,000 pounds in 2001 and finished 15th in the nation, their 2002 results were a bit of a letdown.
"Our goal was a million pounds, but with the economy being tough and a lot of people out of work, we definitely understood why things were off," said Jerry Penn, coordinator of the food drive for National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 2502 in Las Vegas. "Nationwide, we were 6 million pounds off from 2001.
"This year, we have a more modest goal of 675,000 pounds. If everyone in the valley were to give us two 16-ounce cans, we'll meet that goal and more."
The 13th annual event will be this Saturday, with more than 1,500 carriers ready to pick up not just the day's mail inside the boxes but also bags of canned or dry goods placed in bags outside the boxes at many of the valley's 400,000 homes and 250,000 businesses.
The food will be given to major area charities for distribution to the poor through their family services food pantries.
The charities that benefit from the haul say that this one drive will keep their pantries filled through the summer, when donations are at their lowest.
"We stand to get about 125,000 to 135,000 pounds of food from this one drive," said Charles Desiderio, spokesman for the Salvation Army.
"Without drives like this, the Boy Scouts and the smaller drives, it would be almost impossible for us to serve our growing numbers of clients. Without the letter carrier's drive, how do I replace more than 100,000 pounds of food?
Desiderio noted that his agency alone served more than 53,600 clients in family services and issued more than 9,700 food boxes in 2001. Last year, those numbers rose to more than 60,000 people and more than 10,200 food boxes.
Among the other local nonprofit agencies that will benefit from this drive are Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services and St. Jude's.
Mail carriers will be leaving 250,000 plastic bags donated by Albertson's grocers in mailboxes throughout the valley Wednesday through Friday for this year's Help Stamp Out Hunger, the world's largest one-day food drive.
"When I first did this drive 13 years ago, I did not initially think it would become the success it is," said letter carrier Bob Raudenbush, the son of a retired mailman and a participant in all 12 prior Help Stamp Out Hunger events.
"But that first year, we picked up quite a bit. A lot of us came to realize we were doing such a good thing for people who really need the help. This food drive has become a great source of pride for us."
Raudenbush, who serves as food drive coordinator for the Garside branch near Oakey and Decatur boulevards, said he is amazed at people's generosity, noting that one resident left 25 cases of canned vegetables last year.
The letter carrier food drive accepts any canned or dry goods, including baby formula and non-food items such as diapers, soap and detergent.
Items such as prepared foods, non-canned meats and beer and other forms of alcohol are not accepted. Also cans with outdated labels or dents are discouraged.
"Anything dry or in a can that you would buy for yourself is something that we need and want," Penn said.
For more information, call 736-5290.