The men and women of the Paducah Carrier Annex picked up 7,857 pounds of food Saturday during their annual "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive, sponsored by the National Association of Letter Carriers.
Many Paducah residents placed nonperishable food beside their mailboxes to be picked up by their letter carriers as they delivered the day's mail. Donations could also be dropped off at the annex on Park Plaza Road.
All donated items were divided evenly between six charities, including Martha's Vineyard, Paducah Cooperative Ministry, River City Mission, Livingston County Helping Hands Inc., Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul. At the end of the day, each went away with about 1,300 pounds of food.
Volunteers from each charity were on site at the annex, helping sort and distribute the food as carriers returned from their routes.
Ditra Coley, board member for Helping Hands, said their pantry was just thankful to be invited to the Paducah Letter Carrier's food drive, as their post office in Livingston County did not participate in the Stamp Out Hunger program this year.
"They were nice enough to invite us down here. We are funded by donations entirely," Coley said. "Anytime you can get a truckload of food, it's a blessing."
Like Helping Hands, Martha's Vineyard, a food pantry on North 32nd Street in Paducah, depends solely on the generosity of others.
"We depend on food drives like this and donations from our neighbors and friends," said Martha Bell, founder of Martha's Vineyard. Bell said the primary mission of Martha's Vineyard, which opened 24 years ago, has always been to take care of home-bound seniors.
"We receive no government funding," she said. "We have been really blessed. My main purpose in life is to make sure those people don't go without."
All the canned goods, macaroni, and boxes of cereal that were donated Saturday will go a long way to help those in need, said Richard Hayden, a longtime volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul, another charity which benefitted from the food drive.
"As long as it's edible ... those are good items for us, good staples," he said.
For many of the charities, the letter carrier's annual food drive is a way to stock up their pantries before school lets out for the summer, a time when food is especially needed, said Heidi Suhrheinrich, executive director of Paducah Cooperative Ministry (PCM), located on Legion Drive.
"Summertime, when school is out, puts an extra strain on families," she said. "We've seen a significant increase this year. We served just under 500 families last month."
Suhrheinrich said the average number of households PCM has served in 2014 is 475 per month compared to 350 per month in 2012. PCM can provide emergency food for each household up to five times a year.
Kathy McGuire, a city carrier who picked up food along her route Saturday, said she was happy to do her part to help these local charities.
"There's a lot of need right now - people without jobs and running out of unemployment," she said. "We see children who aren't getting enough food; we see situations like this on our routes every day that maybe other people don't see. It really tugs at our hearts. This is a way we can give back to the communities we work in."
James Cissell, program coordinator, said donations were up this year, in part due to the cooperative effort of the community. Last year, the Paducah Carrier Annex collected about 3,000 pounds of donated food.
"I went to every school principal and asked to hang a poster announcing our food drive, and they all said 'Hang it up.' The radio station ran announcements; Coca-Cola donated 25 cases of 16-ounce Coke Zero, and a dentist from Illinois loaned his scale," he said.
Cissell also praised the efforts of charity volunteers who worked alongside letter carriers Saturday.
"Everybody needs food. Everybody's helping everybody here. Salvation Army is helping River City Mission, River City is helping Martha's Vineyard, etc. That's how I wanted it to be."
This marks the 22nd year for the Letter Carrier's Food Drive. It is the nation's largest one-day food collection effort, which has brought in more than 1 billion pounds of donated food to local pantries and charities throughout the U.S. Last year's drive brought in 74 million pounds of food nationally.
Contact Carrie Dillard, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8657.