Postal workers and volunteers locally and nationwide will collect nonperishable food Saturday in the 22nd annual National Association of Letter Carriers' Food Drive, the largest one-day food drive in the country.

Last year, 72 million pounds of food were collected, including 325,000 pounds of food in Central Massachusetts, according to mail carrier Norman P. LaFlash, who has served as food drive coordinator for Branch 12 of the carriers union for 17 years.

"In 2013, we collected 50,000 pounds more than the year before. That's a lot of food. The economy is still down. People are still out of work. Our goal is to always do more than last year, since the food pantries' need is up every year," he said.

He credited part of last year's highly successful drive to Price Chopper, which donated shopping bags printed with the letter carriers' logo and information about the food drive. Those bags were delivered to homes by letter carriers last year, then picked up filled with food.

"Price Chopper gave us even more bags this year. We're hoping this brings up our totals again. The need is there. A lot of working, middle-class families need help. That's where the food pantries come in," Mr. LaFlash said.

Collected food is donated to local food pantries in the communities in which it is collected, he said, noting that Worcester alone has 20 food pantries.

Ron Charette, executive director of the South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Corporation, said his organization has three food pantries: one at 47 Camp St., one at the Green Island Neighborhood Center at 50 Canton St., and one at 28 Lakeside Ave.

He said the letter carriers' food drive comes at a vital time when donations are down.

"Hunger is a year-round problem. A lot of families can't make ends meet."

He said that Project Bread did a study and found that a family of three in Worcester needs to earn $27 an hour to pay an average rent of $966 for a two-bedroom apartment and $564 a month for food.

"That doesn't include clothing, medical costs, gas for the car … We have to supplement family incomes."

He said local elderly on fixed incomes are "the unseen hungry. Look in the basket of the elderly shopper next to you next time you're at the grocery store. There will be a bare minimum. Thank God for the letter carriers. They might be the only contact an elderly person has every day. Their food drive means so much to so many. In the richest country in the world, we should not have hungry folks."

He said the annual food drive puts a spotlight on the need for food and reminds people that we as a community can solve hunger.

Naomi R. LeBlanc, director of development at the Worcester County Food Bank, said that last year the food bank received 14,500 pounds of food from the letter carriers' one-day drive.

"We receive a tremendous amount of food in November, December and January, which is wonderful during the holidays and cold season. But there is less attention to hungry people this time of year. So just when free and reduced lunches at schools end, the support ends. Some parents dread summer because their children aren't getting their regular meals. The food carriers' drive is so important."

She encouraged donors to "donate non-perishable food you'd want to eat yourself," such as peanut butter, canned beans, cereal, canned meats or tuna, crackers, and canned fruits and vegetables not in glass containers.

Mr. LaFlash said he wanted to thank all the donors, volunteers, AFL-CIO, United Way and Price Chopper for all their help and support.

"Without them, we couldn't do this, and people would go hungry."

Nonperishable food items can be dropped off at any post office Saturday or can be placed in a bag or box where you normally pick up your mail on that day. Please check dates, and do not give expired food.

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