VERNON - It was only supposed to be for city mail carriers. But that didn't stop the clerks and carriers at the Highland Lakes Post Office, a decidedly rural facility, from participating in the Stamp Out Hunger food drive. The drive is an annual operation of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). The event is uncomplicated. Each year, participating offices receive informational cards to be distributed to each mailbox on the Wednesday before the drive is scheduled. The cards ask those who wish to contribute to leave food by their mailboxes. As mail is delivered, the food is picked up. All food is then brought back to the post office and distributed to a local food pantry. It sounded like a good idea to letter carriers Bruce Young, Dave Levine, Maria Roesch, Harry Pederson, and substitute carriers Barbara Schneider, Ted Gemmon, and Mark Skop. So they worked together, suggesting to Postmaster Andy Devincenzi that they get involved with the drive. With Devincenzi's O.K., they contacted Ed Fulato, area coordinator from the main post office in Paterson, who supplied the necessary information cards to the Highland Lakes carriers. The notice went out on Wednesday as planned. And on Saturday, May 8, while the carriers gathered food on their routes, office clerks Claire Crum, Laurie Kratchman, Mary Lou Puccia, Barb Fusco, and Sandy Humphrey set up a table in the lobby and accepted donations from post-office box holders and customers all day long. When the carriers returned to the office after delivering the mail, their trucks were just as full as when they left. However, they were full of something other than mail - the letters were replaced by boxes, bags, cans, and containers of every non-perishable sort. Just the sheer volume of goods looked promising, and the actual numbers didn't disappoint. This year the Highland Lakes carriers collected about one ton of food. Marilyn Olsen and her husband Warren of Highland Lakes, arranged to pick it up and transport it to Harvest House, a community lunch program hosted at the First Baptist Church in Sussex that serves a complete hot meal daily to those in need. However, when Warren arrived on Saturday, there was so much food that he had to wait until Monday to get a big enough vehicle to carry it all. Since the program began in 1993, the nationwide effort to "stamp out hunger" has collected about 587 million pounds of food. According to a postal bulletin, many emergency food programs report that without the help of the NALC food drive, they would not have enough food to meet demand. The Highland Lakes carriers and postal employees may have had to do some extra work, but they ended up satisfied with their operation, and the return is great. The homeless and hungry of Sussex County will continue to have at least one meal a day they can count on.