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FARMINGTON — Each year thousands of people rely on ECHO Food Bank to put food on their table, and the economic downturn in San Juan County has only increased that need.

The food bank depends on donated food to provide meals for low-income, school children, unemployed and senior citizens throughout the county, and one of its largest annual food drives will be May 13.

On Saturday, May 13, people in the Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield areas can leave donations of nonperishable food items near their mailboxes and neighborhood box units or in designated box units at post offices as part of the National Association of Letter Carriers 25th annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive.

The donations will go to the food bank as well as its 20 partners, which include soup kitchens and the Boys & Girls Club.

"Hunger remains an issue in America," said Pam Donato, the NALC director of community services.

She said the food drive started as letter carriers noticed people on their routes who did not have a lot of food. At the same time, there were also people on their routes who had plenty.

"They thought maybe they'd be willing to share," she said.

Over the past 25 years, about 1.5 billion pounds of food have been donated throughout the country.

Locally, the food drive began 27 years ago and during that time frame more than 300,000 pounds of food have been donated to ECHO food bank, according to Vicki Metheny, the food programs' director for ECHO, Inc.

"That's a pretty big impact," she said.

The downturn in the local economy has created more demand for the food while also decreasing the food bank's donations.

"We've seen the trickle-down effect as people have lost their jobs," Metheny said.

The nonprofit has also braced for upcoming state budget cuts that will affect some of the organizations that provide food.

The letter carrier's food drive is one of the largest food drives of the year. Last year, Aztec residents donated 3,000 pounds of food, Metheny said. She said Farmington and Bloomfield residents also donated about 3,000 pounds.

"It's the easiest way to do a food drive," Metheny said.

Metheny said if all of ECHO's shelves are filled the nonprofit will have enough food for three to four months.  She said having all the shelves full allows the nonprofit to prepare for emergencies.

"We never know what crisis is going to happen," she said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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