PARKERSBURG - Employees at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia are collecting food today in the annual Stamp Out Hunger Food drive sponsored by the National Association of Letter Carriers.
Nationally, the drive is held in May and collects food and donations for food pantries across the country. This year it is on Saturday.
At Highmark, employees in the Parkersburg state headquarters collect more than 1,000 pounds of non-perishable items each year, said spokesman Leah Worley.
"Parkersburg is usually pretty good," Worley said.
Corporate-wide in West Virginia, employees contribute about 1,700 pounds, she said.
The donations will be collected this morning at 9:30 and taken to the post office.
According to the National Association of Letter Carriers website, www.nalc.org, the drive is the largest one day food collection event in the nation.
Postal carriers and volunteers today from the 261 zip code area of West Virginia are participating. Last year, the drive collected about 45,000 pounds of food for local food banks and organizations, according to Roger Francis, local event coordinator, with the letter carriers.
Residents leave canned non-perishable food by their mailboxes where it will be collected.
Stamp Out Hunger is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In 2011, more than 70 million pounds of food were collected.
Local sponsors are Foodland, Mel's Diamond House and Family Carpet. Highmark West Virginia and Neale School conducted in-house food collections, he said.
National sponsors include the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, Campbell Soup, Valpak, the U.S. Postal Service, United Way, the AFL-CIO, Feeding America, Uncle Bob's Self-Storage and AARP.
Across the Ohio River in Washington County, letter carriers with the Belpre, Marietta and McConnelsville post offices also will collect nonperishable food items on Saturday.
This is the 18th year the Marietta Post Office has participated, said John Harding, a letter carrier.
"In Marietta we have reached on average around 18,000 pounds (a year), but our best year was 33,000 pounds," he said.
Harding said post cards were distributed to residents Thursday informing them of the food drive. Harding said all nonperishable food items are accepted but nothing in a glass container should be donated.
"Most of it stays at the Marietta Community Food Pantry but usually we service up to seven or eight food pantries total," he said.
Bill Farnsworth, director of the Marietta Community Food Pantry at the First Congregational Church on Front Street, said demand has increased at the pantry so donations are greatly needed.
"It's very important because this food we get will last us for a while," Farnsworth said. "We're trying to fill some empty spots we have in our store rooms and we count on it every year to help."
Harding said volunteers are needed to help pick up the items left at mailboxes. Anyone willing to help out should meet at the Belpre, McConnelsville or Marietta Post Offices at 9 a.m. Saturday.
"We try to get volunteers to come in and we send them to different sections of the city and hopefully they get the food ahead of the carrier so the carrier isn't weighed down with the food," he said. "We always comb the city twice. It's a long but rewarding day."