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Salt Lake hunger-fighting charities win $1M in grants from Walmart

By | Posted - Jan. 5, 2011 at 4:50 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utahns "like" Walmart. They really "like" Walmart.

Or at least they like the fact that the world's largest retailer awarded a $1 million grant to hunger-fighting charities in Salt Lake City, a portion of which will go to the Utah Food Bank. Meanwhile, the Ogden-Clearfield area will receive $100,000.

The need has been pretty staggering. Fortunately, the community has been really good about responding to that need.

–Jessica Pugh, Utah Food Bank

The Salt Lake nonprofit agency earned the highest number of online votes in Walmart's nationwide Fighting Hunger Together contest. The funds will be used to further the agency's mission of serving 150 food pantries and food banks across the state.

Of the 10 million votes cast, more than half were for two Utah communities, Walmart officials said Wednesday.

"We rarely see opportunities like this," said Food Bank CEO Jim Pugh. He said the $1 million represents about 15 percent of the Food Bank's annual budget. If all the money were to go to the Food Bank, it would represent the second largest single donation they've ever had.

"To say we're over the moon would be an understatement," said spokeswoman Jessica Pugh. Volunteers and staff crowded around a computer to await the official announcement. The good news was met with cheering, fist pumps and tears of joy.

"They (online voters) never gave up on us or Ogden," Jessica Pugh said.

The high level of participation reflected "the real united front Utah has when it comes to providing to those less fortunate in Utah," she said.

Utah Food Bank's board directors will meet to decide how best to use the grant to feed needy Utahns, Jessica Pugh said. Other cash donations to the food bank are used to purchase food and the food bank's transportation network.

Contest results
  1. Salt Lake City, Utah
  2. Fresno, Calif.
  3. Columbia, SC
  4. Ogden, Utah
  5. Charleston, SC
  6. Bakersfield , Calif.

Thanks to an extensive volunteer workforce, 85 full-time employees and relationships with the food industry, every dollar contributed to the Utah Food Bank can be leveraged in $7 in goods and services.

For instance, Feeding America, the national food bank organization, enables food banks to pick up produce from growers for only the cost of transporting the items.

The Utah Food Bank also has a "grocery rescue program" in which grocers provide perishable items on their "use by" dates. The food is made immediately available to needy families.

Large-scale events do not deter from regular giving to food bank, Jessica Pugh said. Contributions from food drives provide about 8 percent of its inventory. But the community's donations of nonperishable food help ensure that clients receive food boxes that are well-balanced nutritionally.

"Our goal is to continually communicate the current need in the community. Unfortunately, for the last couple of years, the need has been pretty staggering. Fortunately, the community has been really good about responding to that need," Jessica Pugh said.

Just where the money will go, though, is still to be determined. Walmart's Salt Lake City market manager Don Schulthies says the decision will be made sometime next week.

"There will be multiple participants," Schulthies said. "It won't all go to the food bank here but will go to different agencies throughout the state."

Kimball Young, chairman of the food bank's development committee, said board members were "ecstatic" over the news.

"This is certainly a tremendous response from Utahns and others who see the need as we do and responded to try to meet it," Young said.

He said traffic to the Utah Food Bank website as a result of the Walmart competition resulted an additional $70,000 to $100,000 in online contributions.

While the grant will be a big boon to the food bank's efforts, the need to assist Utah's needy is ongoing. "The need is not diminishing. It's only becoming greater," Young said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, in a statement released Wednesday afternoon, lauded the efforts of Utahns.

"Receiving this grant demonstrates once again how much our citizens care about their community and those in need," Corroon said. "Winter is especially difficult for some families to have enough nutrition, so this will be an enormous boost to food bank efforts."

The contest was part of Walmart's $2 billion commitment to help fight hunger through 2015. The five runner-up communities Fresno, Calif., Columbia, S.C., Ogden, Charleston, S.C., and Bakersfield, Calif., will each receive $100,000 in grants for local hunger relief efforts.

"We launched this Facebook campaign with the goal of raising awareness of the serious issue of hunger in the U.S. The overwhelming enthusiasm from the people who rallied for their community shows the campaign's success," said Margaret McKenna, president of the Walmart Foundation, in a statement. "We've gained valuable feedback from the conversations on Facebook that we'll use to help inform our hunger relief giving in 2011 and beyond."


Story written with information from Marjorie Cortez, Marc Giauque and Amanda Butterfield.

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