The National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, the largest food drive in the nation, will take place this Saturday, when letter carriers will be picking up not just outgoing mail from mailboxes, but donated food items as well.

And Westside letter carriers that have been part of the event for years, like Tim Thornton, co-coordinator of the drive here in Santa Monica, are already gearing up for the event.

“I have been a letter carrier in Santa Monica since February 1985,” Thornton said. “As a carrier I have been collecting the non-perishable food every year since the NALC National Food Drive started in 1993. For the last six years Justin Landrum and I have been the coordinators here in Santa Monica.”

According to the NALC website, the national, coordinated effort by the NALC to help fight hunger in America grew out of discussions in 1991 by a number of leaders at the time, including NALC President Vincent R. Sombrotto, AFL-CIO Community Services Director Joseph Velasquez and Postmaster General Anthony Frank. In October of 1991 a pilot drive was held in 10 cities that proved so successful that work began immediately on making it a nationwide effort.

The website states that input from food banks and pantries suggested that late spring would be the best time for the drive, since by then most food banks in the country start running out of donations received during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday periods.

“A revamped drive was organized for May 15, 1993-the second Saturday in May-with a goal of having at least one NALC branch in each of the 50 states participating. The result was astounding. More than 11 million pounds of food was collected-a one-day record in the United States-involving more than 220 union branches. From Alaska to Florida and Maine to Hawaii, letter carriers did double duty-delivering mail and picking up donations. It just grew and grew from that point.”

Thornton said that what makes the NALC drive unique from other drives is that it makes participation easier.

“People who wish to donate food don’t have to worry about loading heavy cans, bags, or boxes to the food bank. They just set them out near their mailbox and we will gladly pick them up and deliver them to the food bank. We will even be providing a bag to put them in, to be delivered the Wednesday or Thursday before the drive.”

Thornton said that in years past they have collected a fair amount of food in Santa Monica, but in 2013 (the first year bags were delivered to homes before the day of the drive) the food donations exceeded all expectations.

“Lots of us volunteered to stay late off the clock to collect, sort, and send the food to the bank. Of course we are grateful for any amount donated, but we all hope for another year like that.”

Thornton also emphasized how gracious Santa Monica’s regular participants are, stating that every year for the last five years one resident has donated a bottle of caviar.

The importance of the drive is evident to Thornton.

“In 2016 there are families with two incomes that are living paycheck to paycheck. There are many families that are one unforeseen incident away from not being able to put groceries in their kitchen. This is the largest food drive in the nation, and the collected food goes to local food banks. In Santa Monica our collected food goes to the Westside Food Bank at 1710 22nd St.”

Thornton will tell you there is no prize or glory for the letter carriers who participate in the event.

“This food drive is voluntary for our carriers. We get nothing extra for it. We do it out of love for mankind.”

For more information on the drive, go to https://www.nalc.org/community-service/food-drive/frequently-asked-questions

jennifer@www.smdp.com