United Way, partners hoping to halt hunger
Kicking off with a food drive called Stamp Out Hunger to be held next week, area organizations are all set to shine a spotlight on their long-term fight against hunger.
For 20 years, Stamp Out Hunger has had letter carriers picking up goods directly from peoples' homes and delivering them to local food shelves.
"It's so easy to make a donation: Simply leave a bag of non-perishable food by your mailbox to help neighbors in need. That's all it takes," said Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers that sponsors the food drive.
In 2011, 70.2 million pounds of food were gathered from mailboxes across the country. This year the event will be Saturday May 12 and, if a matching amount is collected, it would mark the eighth consecutive year that donations totaled more than 70 million pounds.
The United Way is one of many partners involved in Stamp Out Hunger, and the local chapter is launching its own initiative to raise more awareness about hunger and its effects on millions of Americans.
"Every time we tell people about hunger they say, 'If I only knew,'" United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce Counties Executive Director Maureen Nelson said.
Hundreds of people throughout area towns will soon be well aware as "Who's Hungry?" posters and postcards make their way into local businesses, churches and schools. Fairview Red Wing Medical Center, Goodhue County Health and Human Services and Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical are just a few of many locations that people can find the postcards.
The "Who's Hungry?" notices offer information not just for those who need assistance, but also for those who want to provide it. They feature more than a dozen phone numbers of different organizations to contact to learn more about joining food support programs as well as volunteering time and effort to them.
"It takes away some of the stigma of picking up a postcard because you could be looking at how you can help," Nelson noted.
In addition to lining up the United Way's efforts with the timing of the Stamp Out Hunger food drive, Nelson said there's another reason why extra focus is being put on hunger at this particular time.
During the winter as holidays approach and people get into the Christmas spirit, the willingness to give comes second nature. But Nelson hopes the "Who's Hungry?" initiative will keep people feeling charitable long after the tree comes down.
"It's a good reminder to people that hunger lasts all year," she said. "This time of year people are so busy and it's not the first thing on your mind."
For many, however, hunger is always on their mind. According to the United Way, almost 50 million people in the United States struggled to get enough to eat last year. Hunger takes a toll on everyone from young children to aging seniors, whether through malnutrition, medical issues, social setbacks or an inability to concentrate at school and work, Nelson said.
The United Way also reports that the average American throws away 33 pounds of food each month, which typically adds up to about $40 directly down the drain.
If people would rather donate those items than toss them away, the United Way's Packing for the Weekend program and the Red Wing Food Shelf welcome non-perishable foods. Monetary donations can be made to the Red Wing Hunger Initiative and mailed to the United Way, 413 W. Third St., Red Wing, MN 55066.
Regan Carstensen in a reporter for the Red Wing Republican-Eagle.