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Mail carriers collect roughly 14,000 pounds of food

Austin mail carrier Bob Rosel started walking down a stretch of Sixth Avenue Southeast carrying mail Saturday, but he returned to his van with his bag and his arms filled with food.

“By the end of the day it’s just all food,” Rosel said as he placed the first bags filled with non-perishable food in the back of his van next to crates of mail.

Austin members of the National Association of Letter Carriers had an extra job Saturday as they picked up food donated by Austin residents for the 17th annual mail carriers food drive.

“This is what we do all day long: deliver mail and pick up food,” he said.

The extra work paid off this year, as Austin mail carriers collected about 14,000 pounds of food — their highest total ever by about 3,000 pounds, Rosel said.

People who wanted to donate food left bags of non-perishable food on their door steps or hung the bags from their mailboxes. Last year, Albert Lea nearly doubled Austin’s total of just more than 8,900 pounds.

Rosel, who is coordinating the food drive in Austin this year, said carrying the extra load along his 10-mile route leads to a tiring day, but he said it’s worth it once a year.

“Hopefully people are very generous, and it gets to be more and more and more,” he said. “You get a little tired by the end of the day, but it’s the kind of tired you feel good about. You probably wouldn’t want to do this every day of the year.”

About 23 mail carriers and some part-time workers collected the food as they delivered mail Saturday. Area students and Austin Jaycees members volunteered to drive around town and pick up bags, especially larger bags, to help ease the mail carriers’ loads.

The effort is part of the Letter Carriers National Food Drive which takes place in 10,000 cities and towns across America Saturday.

The National Association of Letter Carriers is in its 18th year of the nationwide event, which is the largest one-day food drive in the country.

Last year, 73.4 million pounds of food were collected.

Mail carriers in Austin and Albert Lea have competed to see which city can collect the most food for about four years, but Austin has yet to claim the trophy. Rosel said it’s a friendly competition to get the community interested in helping their city win.

“It’s all in good fun,” Rosel said.

“If they beat us every year that’s OK as long as the food shelves are getting stocked,” he added.

However, Rosel said he does want to beat Albert Lea.

Hy-Vee donated grocery bags that the mail carriers dropped off last week to encourage and remind people to donate food. Rosel said he hoped it would lead to more donations.

Rosel examined a few of the bags closely to make sure they contained donated food. In the past, Rosel has picked up garbage and even a bag of dirty diapers.

Carriers in Brownsdale, Dexter, Rose Creek, Adams and Racine also collected food Saturday. The food donated in Austin goes to the Salvation Army. However, Brownsdale and other rural towns donate the food to a local food shelf or church.

Food will also be picked up on Monday. People who forgot to donate food can drop off a donation Monday at the Austin Post Office.