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AKRON - After two months of hard work, it was time to pause for celebration May 12 at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.
With help from an individual, corporate and community donors, the Foodbank raised more than $1.25 million and collected more than 100,000 pounds of food from more than 200 organizations in its annual Harvest for Hunger campaign. That's enough to provide more than 5 million meals to those who struggle with hunger.
"Harvest for Hunger is probably the largest food drive in the state of Ohio," said Gina Campbell, director of fund development at the Foodbank, explaining that the campaign includes three other Northeast Ohio foodbanks, spanning a total of 21 counties.
So the May 12 event was dubbed a luau luncheon, held in the same warehouse where food programs pick up food to pass out in their locales.
The luau featured wonton tacos, salsa and guacamole from the Raging Avocado in Louisville; island-themed music from Tom Knouff's Celebration in Sound in Massillon; a conga line by Foodbank employees; an extra $3,000 donation from FirstEnergy Corp., which had already reached diamond level donor status by giving more than $25,000; and plenty of awards to recognize those who gave, including 84 financial and food donors listed on the program.
"I pray, pray, pray that we'll meet this goal ... there's grace all over it," said Dan Flowers, president and chief executive of the Foodbank.
The campaign was chaired for the second straight year by Jim Porter, publisher of GateHouse Ohio Media and Mark Cohen, publisher of the Akron Beacon Journal and Ohio.com.
Each was presented with a "golden shopping cart" award for leading the way toward the $1.25 million goal. The final cash tally was $1,265,933, including an extra $3,000 from FirstEnergy.
Stephanie Knori, campaign specialist at the Foodbank, presented seven special awards to honor coordinator, young harvester, breakout performance, campaign champion, innovator, rookie and steadfast supporter of the year.
The Stark County Educational Service Center grabbed rookie of the year. It coordinated a multi-school effort that brought in more than $11,000 and 30,0000 pounds of food.
The ESC helps provide shared services for public school systems in Stark County, as well as four more school districts in Carroll, Summit, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties. The group came on board for this year's campaign, thanks to prodding from Porter, according to ESC Superintendent Joe Chaddock.
"We filled up 17 school buses with food," Chaddock said, crediting the work of all the individual districts that made it happen. "A lot of that food will wind up going right back to our kids."
The single largest component of Harvest for Hunger is the Checkout Hunger campaign, which allowed shoppers at Buehler's Fresh Foods, Dave's Supermarkets, Fishers Foods, Giant Eagle and Heinen's Fine Foods to scan coupons and provide donations at the cash register. The stores took in $515,291 and 2,871 pounds of food during that push.
Diamond level financial donors, other than FirstEnergy, were Akron Children's Hospital, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., John Hinds and Shearer's Snacks. The sole diamond level food donor was the National Association of Letter Carriers, which collected more than 35,000 pounds of food through its Stamp Out Hunger program.