By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of stories about local hunger heroes, people in our region who have taken action to help combat hunger in our community by partnering with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee in a variety of ways.
Randy Hite still remembers the day just over a quarter century ago when he was told about a new nationwide initiative launched by the National Association Letter Carriers (NALC) to help battle hunger in communities around the country.
Hite was delivering mail door-to-door in Johnson City back in May of 1993 during the first Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, and he remembered how daunting the task sounded. In addition to delivering mail, Hite was charged with picking up bags of donated food at each house along his route, which ran through downtown Johnson City and included the Keystone community.
“We’re going to do what?” Hite remembers asking. “We’re going to collect food and deliver all of this mail?”
Hite has since retired from his position with the postal service, but as the president of the local branch of NALC, he is one of the greatest champions of the program, which benefits the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. In fact, he was out making the rounds once again on Saturday collecting bags of food left by citizens in Johnson City wishing to make a donation to those battling hunger in our region.
It’s safe to say that the annual food drive has made quite an impact on Hite, who remembers days when he had to call an off-duty mail carrier to bring him an extra truck because his was filled to the max with donated food. He also remembers the folks along his route – which he walked each day – pouring out of their homes to help him carry all the donated food back to his truck.
“A lot of my route down there was what we call park and loop,” Hite said. “I’d park on the corner and might walk, two or three blocks down one side and come back up the other side (of the street). Well, you can’t carry all that food when you’re walking, and I’ve had people come and help me, jump up and run out and help carry stuff to the truck.”
As the years have gone by, Hite said the partnership between the local letter carriers and Second Harvest has grown stronger with each passing year, and the outpouring of support from the community has grown by leaps and bounds as well.
“This figure is going to blow your mind,” Hite said. The first year, nationally we collected 11 million pounds of food. This past year we collected 71 million pounds.”
The Stamp Out Hunger event this past Saturday culminated with a cook out to thank local letter carriers for participating in the largest single-day food drive in the country. Hite’s organization provided the drinks while the local leadership of the USPS contributed food for a cookout held on Saturday afternoon.
For Hite, the opportunity to help Second Harvest still gets him excited because he knows the items collected will stay in the region and help those in our area who struggle with hunger.
“We know we can trust them that it’s going to benefit the people we’re serving,” he said.
To learn more about the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, visit www.netfoodbank.org.