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Letter carriers to collect food donations

PENNSAUKEN South Jersey residents are being asked to participate Saturday in Stamp Out Hunger, the nation's largest single-day food drive.

Organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers and the U.S. Postal Service, the drive allows residents to contribute nonperishable food by leaving items at their mailbox to be picked by postal workers.

Last year, Stamp Out Hunger brought more than 258,000 pounds of food to the Food Bank of South Jersey.

"If there's an easier way to feed your neighbor, I sure don't know what it is," said Val Traore, chief executive officer of the Food Bank. "You don't even have to leave your home, and thanks to our partners Bottom Dollar Food, Bank of America, and the United Way, even a bag is provided."

Letter carriers will distribute grocery bags to more than 250,000 homes in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem Counties.

Volunteers are needed Saturday for three shifts at the Food Bank unloading food from the postal trucks, and sorting and boxing the items. The shifts are 3 to 6 p.m., 6 to 9 p.m., and 9 to 11 p.m.

The need for donated food is particularly acute this year given federal aid cuts, including a reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

"This year the impact of the reduction in SNAP benefits was the equivalent of losing 21 meals per month per family," Traore said.

Almost 86 percent of the food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the state that responded to a recent survey by the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey reported an increased demand for food assistance in November 2013 compared with a year earlier. Eighty-three percent of the providers said their clients had been affected by the SNAP cuts.

Due to higher demand for food assistance, nearly half said they have had to reduce the amount of food they distributed.

"The face of hunger is not what most of us think," said Traore. "It's working families that make too much for public assistance but not enough to cover all their essential needs."

The Food Bank is at 1501 John Tipton Blvd. in Pennsauken. - Rita Giordano