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Delivering Unto the Needy : Charity: Orange County letter carriers pick up almost a million pounds of donations as part of union’s national food drive.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County letter carriers picked up nearly a million pounds of donated food as they delivered letters Saturday, during the first nationwide food drive organized by the National Assn. of Letter Carriers.

The food will be distributed to groups helping needy senior citizens, unemployed people and the homeless throughout the county, said Mark Lowry, director of the Orange County Community Development Center in Garden Grove.

“It’s coming in truck after truck, trailer after trailer,” said Cindy Cross, a program manager for the Food Distribution Center in Orange. “It looks like good quality food, personal products and everything from toothpaste to hairbrushes too.”

Melody Berger, the center’s volunteer administrator, stopped for a quick break from the rush of unloading trucks of food. “It’s definitely more than we expected,” Berger said.

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The center initially had anticipated about 350,000 pounds of food. By Saturday evening, they had changed the estimate to more than 700,000 pounds--and that was from the south end of the county alone.

Earlier this week, the carriers sent postcards to local residents asking them to leave non-perishable food items by their doors Saturday. Letter carriers picked up the packages and took them back to their home post offices for sorting.

Volunteers from local high schools and service groups--as well as off-duty postal workers--sifted through the items and packed them into large bins Saturday, Lowry said.

Food from North County was delivered to the Orange County Community Development Center, and food from cities south of Tustin was driven to the Food Distribution Center. Both centers are run by private, nonprofit charitable groups, Lowry said.

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Lowry said the Community Development Center had received 230,503 pounds of food by Saturday night.

“Nothing has ever been done on this scale,” Lowry said. The “beauty of the project is that typical food drives mean that people have to buy food, take it to a location and drop it off. But in our case, they don’t have to go through that trouble. For the first time ever, we could reach every apartment, house and mobile home.”

The program is modeled after a food drive that began with Phoenix postal carriers 12 years ago, Lowry said.

“It was so successful, it got the attention of the postal service and letter carriers” elsewhere, he said. In 1992, the project spread to 10 American cities. By last year, post offices in Cypress, Santa Ana, Stanton and Tustin chipped in to help.

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