Instead of just filling mailboxes Saturday, local mail carriers will be taking something away from the houses they visit, too.

The United Way is teaming up again the National Letter Carriers Association to collect an expected 170,000 pounds of food in the Niagara Falls area as part of the 16th annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive.

Residents everywhere across the country, including local communities, will leave non-perishable food items by their mailbox for their mail carrier to pick up. The food will be going right back to the community, including pantries at the Niagara Community Action Program, the Salvation Army and a host of local churches.

And the boost from the drive couldn’t be needed more than it is now — as the cost of fuel and food rises, so does the number of people struggling to make ends meet.

“From our statistics, there is a greater need than any time in the past,” said Philip Buffone, vice president of the United Way. “... These food pantries and soup kitchens are seeing an increase in numbers, not just from homeless, but regular families with children.”

The Buffalo Food Pantry, for instance, has given away 400,000 pounds more food this April than it did at the same time last year.

Donations, on the other hand, are declining at some organizations.

But Buffone is hopeful Western New York will live up to its reputation as being one of the country’s most giving communities. In the past five years of Stamp Out Hunger, Western New York ranked No. 1 in donations. Last year, the area collected nearly 3 million pounds of food out of 70 million nationwide, according to the association.

“We’re beating out huge metropolitan areas like New York City, Atlanta and Chicago,” he said.

Walt Wrazin, co-chair of the event and member of the National Letter Carriers Association, said despite economic hardships, he expects to see the number of donations grow.

“More people have stopped and asked me about the drive this year because I think people are aware of the big need this year,” he said. “Most of those people who can afford it will be helping out more.”

Shelves at food pantries are bare this time of year after the winter and the donations are needed to get them through the summer.

“People tend to give at the holidays and don’t give after that,” Wrazin. “This drive will jump start for the rest of the year.”

For more information or to volunteer, call a local post office or the United Way of Niagara at 285-8461.

To donate

• BY MAILBOX: Leave non-perishable food items, such as canned goods, or hygiene products like soap or deodorant

• BY MAIL: Make checks payable to the United Way of Niagara, 3000 Military Road, Niagara Falls, NY 14304. All money received will go towards the purchase of food.

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