On Saturday, you can help fight hunger in our community

Whenever our conversations turn to the Emergency Food Network’s “brand” in the community, we discuss the “Emergency” in our name.

In 1982, during a period of economic uncertainty, community leaders joined together to address rising food-insecurity in Pierce County, creating EFN to be a countywide distribution system as an emergency solution. The first 400,000 pounds of food that we collected that year met an urgent need, but after 31 years of persistent hunger, we often ask ourselves whether EFN should de-emphasize that part of our name.

We’re collecting and distributing 15 million pounds of food annually in order to address an ongoing need, but is the situation still an “emergency,” or just a real and necessary mission?

An older, married veteran called the food bank for information. He is disabled; he receives $16 per month in food stamps from the government for his disability. He and his wife live in a converted garage where the utilities are covered. He was relieved when he learned he didn’t have to “qualify” to receive free food.

A young father named Thomas just graduated from college, and his son has moved in with him. Thomas has had trouble finding work. They appreciate the food bank and hope they won’t have to depend on it much longer. Their goal is to get on their feet and volunteer at the food bank.

A woman visiting a food bank said, “I never thought my life would end like this. I have bone cancer, and there are times when I think I won’t make it. The food bank allows me to help with small tasks when I am able so I can feel like I am not getting a handout. They treat me with dignity and respect. They let me know when they have received food that I can eat with my medical restrictions.”

Every story that we hear of a family living in a friend’s garage, or of the couple (with two master’s degrees between them) faced with loans, no jobs and bills to pay, makes it clear that the emergency food that we provide to 67 area food programs means the difference between having a roof over your head, affording transportation to get to work or an interview, having money to pay for medicine, or having to give up eating that day.

Could you have guessed that 343,787 Pierce County residents received their food from food banks in the first quarter of 2013?

The amount of food that has been distributed by Pierce County food banks, meal sites and shelters has gone up 67 percent since 2008, and the need continues to grow. Food programs are reporting this increase is largely due to visits from individuals who have had hours reduced, multifamily households and seniors living on savings due to declining retirement incomes.

On Saturday, our community again has an opportunity to join together to drastically increase the amount of food available to your neighbors in need. The 20th annual National Association of Letter Carriers’ (NALC) Stamp Out Hunger food drive is the largest annual food drive in our community, offering you the opportunity to engage in the fight against hunger. This one-day event provides a simple way to join together to see that no person in Pierce County goes hungry.

Drive organizers have set a goal to collect more than 350,000 pounds of food. When you go to the store, please join me in picking up peanut butter and some extra cans of nonperishable items, such as tuna, canned meat and canned fruits. Fill the bag you received in the mail and leave it at your mailbox. Your letter carrier and local volunteers will see that all the donated food is collected and distributed to a local food bank.

Thank you for caring throughout the year to ensure that no one in Pierce County is forced to go to school, to work or to bed hungry. Our neighbors are counting on us, and I know we will not let them down.

Helen McGovern is director of the Emergency Food Network.