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SALT LAKE CITY —The Fighting Hunger Together contest by Walmart has ended and it appears that Salt Lake City came out on top by more than a million votes.
That may translate into a $1 million donation by Walmart for Utah's Food Bank if the votes are verified next week.
Ogden-Clearfield held onto its fourth place rank, which may earn the local food bank a $100,000 grant from Walmart.
Votes for Salt Lake City — which were counted when users "liked" posts and links from the contest on Facebook — surged in the last 24 hours, increasing by more than 3 million to end with nearly 5.3 million.
In the final 15 minutes before the contest ended, the website actually crashed due to heavy traffic.
When the contest ended at 5 p.m. MST, Salt Lake City had 5,298,313 votes, according to the website. Fresno ended with 4,119,975 and Ogden-Clearfield with 304,161.
The contest became a social media phenomenon as people showed their support with clicks and "likes."
Despite the rankings posted on the website, a winner won't be officially announced by Walmart until next Wednesday.
"Then between now and Jan. 5, Walmart will have what they're calling a reconciliation process," said Utah Food Bank chief marketing officer Ginette Bott. "That's where they will go back and look at the program to see the voting and to see if it was done correctly. Then they will announce the winner on Wednesday."
It's been reported that Walmart may cap the voting limit to three votes per person, which would significantly reduce the number of votes each city received.
Five runner-up cities will receive $100,000 grants for their food banks.
The Utah Food Bank and its 154 affiliated food pantries throughout the state are already winners, whether or not they get the top prize, Bott said.
"It's a great opportunity to reach out to the entire state," she said. Food bank officials hope the contest will set the foundation for donations of food, time and money in 2011.
"We didn't ever dream the community and the state would step up and support us the way they have," Bott said.
The Utah Food Bank held a get-out-the-vote party at Jordan Commons in the final two hours of voting Friday.
Two weeks ago, Salt Lake City had only 3,500 votes. The city surged past Fresno, Calif., on Thursday and now has more than 4.7 million supporters.
Jeff Simpson, Chief Operating Officer of KSL Broadcasting Group, said he and others within the Deseret Management Corporation saw Salt Lake City's numbers lagging behind Fresno and made the decision to dedicate their resources to help the city regain its top spot.
"The Utah Food Bank is obviously a really great cause and we're supporters of the food bank year after year," he said. "But in this case, we ought to be able to win and that if we could get all of our audience to participate, we could turn the thing around."
He said all media platforms within the company, which includes KSL.com, KSL-TV, KSL Radio and the Deseret News, were used to engage readers, listeners and viewers in the effort. And he said he is happy with the response.
"It's just really great to see the community all get behind it," Simpson said. "If you look at the Food Bank, you can see they can make $1 into $3 or $4. This is going to make a huge difference for a really good cause."
As cities await an official announcement, supporters of the two cities have lobbed accusations of dirty tricks back and forth in online comments and local media reports as they struggled for the top spot.
Jeremy Reid, who owns local store Big Poppas Clothing, said he dedicated what added up to about 20 hours finding ways to put in additional votes. He said, in all, he is responsible for around 30,000 and is worried 29,997 of them may not matter.
"All the sudden that hard work and effort is supposedly for nothing," he said.
He said he initially tried to run a food drive in his store, but wasn't seeing any real results, so he jumped at the opportunity to vote and add to Salt Lake's totals —sometimes even going so far as neglecting other tasks.
"I'm a small business owner, I support local," he said. "I haven't vacuumed floors, I haven't washed windows, I let all these little things slide for something I believe in, so I'm a little frustrated."
He said he will wait to see how all the votes are counted, but still feels he aided in a "worthy cause."
"You've got to fight for what you believe in," Reid said. "I think that's what Utahns are doing. Whether all the votes count or not, I think a lot of people stepped up to the plate and hopefully it'll be successful for Utah."