County residents turned out in a big way in response to the U.S. Postal Service drive during Valentine's Day week to collect non-perishable food items from customers for food banks.

So much food was collected that organizers of last week's effort asked the National Guard to assist in hauling the 44,767 pounds collected to the Harford Food Bank in Edgewood.

Two Guard trucks made the rounds of nine county post offices Tuesday.

"This is the fullest I think I have ever seen the food bank,"said Betty Karukas, executive assistant for the food bank, which supplies church and other groups assisting the needy.

"People came asfast as we got the food in, and it went out the door. Previous to this drive, we would have been in a bind."

Edgewood Postmaster Paul Alexander, co-coordinator for county food collection with Bel Air postmaster Robert Androsky, said he was pleased by the success of the drive.

"Every post office is getting more than it expected," Alexander said.

As of Thursday, food was still coming in at bins set up in each post office, said Alexander.

At first, Alexander said, postal employees would transport donations in their cars after work to the food bank, located on Old Edgewood Road. The bank stores the food and then sells it at a reduced cost to about 50 non-profit agencies and churches in Harford and Cecil counties.

"It got to be too much for us," Alexander said. That's when the plea for help went to the National Guard.

Larry Adam, founder of Harvest for the Hungry, a non-profit organization which assisted with the drive, said the Postal Service collected 508,696 pounds in Maryland and Delaware.

About 35,500 pounds of that were collected in Delaware and will go to food banks there.

Post offices in Baltimore and Baltimore County collecteda combined 294,000 pounds. In Anne Arundel County, 35,000 pounds were collected, and in Carroll County, the total was 15,000 pounds.

Adam, a Fallston resident, said the collection by Harvest for Hungry so far this year is 640,130 pounds, almost matching the total collected through the group's efforts during all of 1991 -- 666,220 pounds.

"We will easily exceed that this year," he said. "It's unbelievable."

Post offices will collect food donations until the end of Marchin bins set up at most of their facilities. Girl Scout troops in thecounty also are collecting food donations for the food bank.

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