Lawrence residents have a big opportunity to fight food insecurity, and the first step is just keeping an eye on your mailbox Saturday.
Just Food is distributing 40,000 postcards to promote Stamp Out Hunger, the largest single-day food drive in America, coming up next Saturday, May 13. Just Food teams up with the U.S. Postal Service in Lawrence every year for the event, which allows mail carriers to seamlessly collect donated food from all across town.
Residents can donate food as easily as leaving a bag at their mailbox on May 13. And on Monday, Just Food will place donation bins at other locations across town, including post office mailrooms, apartment complexes, grocery stores, gyms, and other businesses. (Visit this interactive map for a full list of Just Food’s year-round community bins.)
That food ends up in the Just Food warehouse, ready to be sorted and distributed directly to neighbors in need. This Stamp Out Hunger drive comes at a time of unprecedented food insecurity, which has remained at record levels since spiking during the pandemic.
Just Food served 13,095 people in 2022; this year, they’ve already served 8,695, according to Paul Peach, director of operations. Throughout his five years working at the Douglas County food bank, Peach has seen Stamp Out Hunger make a real difference in people’s lives.
“When I first started, the food we got from Stamp Out Hunger lasted us about two months,” Peach said. “But last year, that supply only got us through three weeks.”
That’s why the organization is trying to double its goal: Last year, they raised 12,000 pounds of food. This year, they’re hoping for 24,000 pounds.
Jennifer Villegas, the Lawrence city carrier for the Postal Service, is a key organizer of this year’s Stamp Out Hunger drive. She’s passionate about being part of a community — and to work for an employer — that’s willing to help those in need.
“The Stamp Out Hunger event is a lot of fun, and it’s like a way of coming full-circle for me,” Villegas says. “When I moved from California to Lawrence, Just Food helped me survive for the first few months until I could find a job. I appreciate being in a position now where I can give back and help out.”
Peach emphasized the importance of the Postal Service’s partnership in the campaign. Collecting food door-to-door wouldn’t be possible without them. Villegas says residents can make the job easier for mail carriers by placing their food donations in sturdy plastic bags and, for at-home donations, placing them directly next to their mailbox.
Just Food welcomes any and all food donations, but their most-needed items are peanut butter, canned meats, pasta, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
“It’s cool to be part of a community where everyone is looking after each other and contributing to causes [like this],” said Brett Hartford, executive director of Just Food. “This event is a great way to engage the whole town, like people who wouldn’t typically come into Just Food or who maybe live on the other side of town, in one big effort to address hunger.”
This event will go a long way toward supporting Just Food’s mission, but even after the food is collected, the work is far from over. The food bank’s staff and volunteers will take on the task of sorting all the food before it’s placed on the pantry shelves.
Those interested in volunteering can get in touch with Julie Nelson, volunteer manager at Just Food, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay up-to-date with Just Food on their website, Facebook, and Instagram.
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Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.