Cheryl Alwine's husband, Frank, demonstrates hanging a bag of non-perishable food donations for pick-up during this weekend's food drive. (Photo by Abby Ledoux)

Cheryl Alwine’s husband, Frank, demonstrates hanging a bag of non-perishable food donations for pick-up during this weekend’s food drive. (Photo by Abby Ledoux)

This weekend, letter carriers will pick up more than just your mail.

Saturday, May 9 is the National Association of Letter Carriers “Stamp Out Hunger” Food Drive, the largest single-day food drive in the country. For the 23rd year, letter carriers in more than 10,000 cities and towns, including Milton, will pick up food donations on their routes.

Residents are encouraged to leave non-perishable, non-glass food items in a bag, box or bin before regular mail collection time. Anything collected in Milton will go to the Milton Family Community Center food shelf to help locals in need.

“Food collected in a community stays in that community,” U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Maureen Marion said, attributing that to the program’s success. “Our customers know we are delivering right at home where the need is great.”

MFCC food shelf manager Cheryl Alwine said the number of families using the emergency food shelf each month has nearly doubled from 70 to 130 in 4.5 years.

“It’s amazing what we go through in a month,” Alwine said.

Milton’s food shelf use parallels the status of hunger statewide: One in four people visit a food shelf each year, according to the Vermont Foodbank. Feeding America reports one in seven Vermonters struggle with hunger, and household food insecurity here has increased 45 percent since 2000, according to data from Hunger Free Vermont.

Marion said the Stamp Out Hunger drive occurs when the need for emergency food escalates. As summer begins and schools close, collections can taper off, and many breakfast and lunch programs are scaled back.

Milton’s food shelf always desperately needs food donations to keep shelves stocked, Alwine said. She recently spent a $1,000 donation from Hannaford to fill 100 bags, all of which will be gone by month’s end.

“To be sustainable, we really need that much every month,” she said. “We need people who will say, ‘I’ll buy $10 worth of food a month, every month.’”

If 100 people in Milton did just that, Alwine said, “we’d have more than enough for everybody.”

Alwine hopes this weekend’s drive will offer an easy way to donate. NALC has held the drive for decades, but this is the first year MFCC has promoted it, though the center usually nets three or four bins a year, Alwine said.

Last year, letter carriers collected 72.5 million pounds of food nationwide, the 11th consecutive year surpassing 70 million pounds of donations, and has collected more than 1 billion pounds since its inception in 1993, the USPS says.

Though the drive is voluntary and not all post offices participate, NALC says the country’s 180,000 letter carriers try to reach every mailbox in America. Letter carriers will pick up missed donations on Monday, May 11.

“Letter carriers know their communities and recognize that need, even in unlikely settings,” Marion said. “It is so simple to participate … hunger lives in every zip code.”

Right now, MFCC needs “staple” foods, including pasta, soup, vegetables, tuna, canned products with meat, macaroni and cheese and peanut butter.

“Just whatever anybody can do to help will help, whether it’s a bag full of food or one can of peas,” Alwine said. “Anything would be helpful.”

Bring out your food donations for the MFCC food shelf with your mail on Saturday, May 9 for USPS collection. To learn more, visit www.nalc.org.