Call it special delivery for the needy.
A Postal Service appeal for donations to area food banks -- with home mailbox pickups by letter carriers -- has had an unexpected, huge response.
"We figured people would give a can or two cans," said Robert Androsky, superintendent of postal operations in Bel Air -- one of the 217 post offices and smaller postal stations taking part in the effort in Maryland and Delaware. "They're giving whole bags of food."
"We may get 350,000 to 400,000 pounds of food," Maryland Food Bank director Bill Ewing said yesterday, noting that the food bank had been overwhelmed by the 136,000 pounds of food delivered in the first two days of the weeklong drive. "This has exceeded our expectations. We're just amazed."
And there is a lot more to come -- like the eight tractor-trailer loads that workers at Baltimore's main post office finished packing yesterday, about 240,000 pounds destined for the area's needy.
Patricia M. Liberto, a post office equal opportunity investigator who chairs the "Harvest" campaign for the Baltimore area's Federal Executive Board, said the idea grew out of an internal food drive by postal workers during the past two years and public-postal "harvests" that have proven successful elsewhere around the country.
"It may become national," Ms. Liberto said, expressing hope that the food drive's success "will move people into caring more for each other."
From Darlington to Finksburg and beyond, letter carriers across Maryland this week have been picking up the tangible fruits of that caring -- the public's donations of non-perishable food including cans of tuna or meats, vegetables and soups and other items -- as they delivered the mail.
The donations were beginning to rival the results of the Maryland Food Bank's biggest annual campaign, the Thanksgiving season "Bags of Plenty" drive that collected about 400,000 pounds over an 11-day period.
The postal workers' public appeal had been sent out to virtually every business and household in recent days through 1.5 million fliers distributed by letter carriers to every home on their routes.
The massive mailing was printed free mostly by Chesapeake Graphic Impressions in Glen Burnie. "We thought it was a pretty good idea, what they were doing was worthwhile," said company owner Gary D. Rankin.
Mail carriers and clerks have been donating time to help sort the items before they are trucked to a food bank in Edgewood, he said.
Local postal workers have participated in other types of food drives before, Mr. Androsky said, but this is the first time they have picked up food with the mail. Customers seem to appreciate knowing that the food is going to local people in need, he said.
"The response has been really outstanding so far," agreed Robert Affeldt, postmaster for the Cockeysville-Hunt Valley area.
He said postal workers were quickly filling 4-by-5-by-8-foot containers with food picked up from houses and apartments, and they were being trucked to the Maryland Food Bank in Baltimore.
The Aberdeen post office received 9,000 pounds of food yesterday, and the Reisterstown post office had collected more than 1,400 pounds of food.
For people still wanting to donate, food should be put in bags or boxes and placed near mail boxes, where carriers can see it.
The Maryland Food Bank is looking for 50 volunteers to work four to six hours boxing donations collected by the postal service. To volunteer, call Karen Gahm at 947-1852.