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CORY BYKNISH | Herald

Kayla Steh, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Sharon, brings in mail Wednesday evening. Letter carriers collected a total of 17,574 pounds of food during this year’s “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive.

Normally people can expect letters, bills or packages when the letter carriers of the U.S. Postal Service stop by, either in their stark-white vans or on foot, with a satchel tucked under one arm.

But the letter carriers had something different to deliver this summer, picking up not only mail, but donations of food as well, as part of this year’s “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive.

Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County Executive Director Lori Weston said food drives like this are important because while the holidays tend to encourage the most food donations and giving, many families require year-round assistance.

In Mercer County, about 4,200 households are registered for assistance, including veterans, seniors, the weekend backpack program and families with children, Weston said.

“In the winter you have heating bills,” she said. “But in the summer these families with children now have to feed their children three times a day because school is out.”

The “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive was held on May 11 to support the 33 different agencies in Mercer County that help keep those families fed. The drive was organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers throughout the United States. In Mercer County, the letter carriers collected 17,574 pounds of food items, which Weston said was valued at $28,294.14.

Even though the letter carriers may be carrying a satchel of up to 35 pounds, Postmaster Lynne Holiga with the Sharon and Hermitage post offices said the postal workers are always willing to work extra time, or through their lunch breaks to gather all the bags of donated food.

“Every once in a while we get a call from a carrier who needs us to pick up food from their truck because they need more room,” Holiga said.

About a week before “Stamp Out Hunger,” a notice is delivered reminding residents of the annual food drive and encouraging them to leave bags of non-perishable items. After collection, the food is taken to the post offices and subsequently provided to the food agencies that correspond to their respective post offices.

When it’s time for collection, Postal Service employee Scot Campbell said the letter carriers notice “a lot of Giant Eagle bags” with five to 10 items each.

Though he’s currently acting customer service supervisor at the Sharon post office, Campbell previously worked as a letter carrier at the New Castle post office and said the food drive reflects how “generous people can be.”

“It can be challenging at the beginning of your route because you’re trying to fit the food in a truck full of mail,” Campbell said.

Campbell said a local company even donated a box truck to help transport the food for the Mercer County collection.

“I think it shows people have a lot bigger hearts than the world might give people credit for,” he said.

And that willingness to help those in need, both from the residents and the letter carriers, is very appreciated, Weston said.

“We’re so thankful that on top of everything they do, they’re still willing to carry our food,” she said.

Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com