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Feeding America in running for Wal-Mart grant

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Company will choose 100 food banks to split $3 million

By Marty Finley

An Elizabethtown food bank could receive thousands of dollars in grant money to bolster its BackPack Program if votes pile up.

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Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland is one food bank under consideration for a share of a $3 million grant being offered by Wal-Mart as part of its Fighting Hunger Together initiative. Through April, residents can go to http://wm8.walmart.com/hunger and vote for the local food bank.

Wal-Mart plans to award money to 100 Feeding America network food banks and their partner agencies. The first 40 food banks will receive $45,000 each while the next 60 agencies receive $20,000 each, according to a news release. Winners are announced in May.

“We’re just as excited as excited can be for this,” said Don Fulford, executive director of Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland.

Fulford said his organization expressed its interest in the funding and was asked to submit a project that was an innovative and creative take on fighting child hunger. In response, Fulford’s group developed “Nuts for Nutrition,” which would include a bag of nuts in every backpack offered to children through its BackPack Program. Fulford said the nutritional boost nuts offer would assist

students in school activities. The initiative also is a play on words to indicate the agency’s support of healthy food choices, he said.

The BackPack Program provides children with a bag of food on Friday afternoons to ward off hunger during weekends. Children enrolled in the program are identified by school officials as at-risk for hunger and receive kid-friendly items weekly throughout the school year, such as single-serve portions of cereal and soup, fruit and pudding cups, toaster pastries, granola bars, juice boxes and oatmeal. The food provided, he said, aids in improving attendance rates and grades and helps curb bad behavior.

Fulford said the pantry boasts one of the largest backpack programs in the country, trailing behind larger urban and metropolitan areas, such as Detroit and Los Angeles. He said volunteers take time out of their days to fill about 24,000 backpacks monthly to feed children in its 42-county service area. Grant funding is imperative to support the “Nuts to Nutrition” initiative, he said.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “If we could get some good votes on this, it would be a home run for sure.”

Fulford said the agency will make a large voting push starting Monday on Facebook once spring break wraps up in the area.

He commended Wal-Mart for its fight against hunger and use of social media outlets to garner nationwide support.

Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart foundation made a $2 billion commitment in 2010 to battle hunger in the U.S. through cash and in-kind donations, according to its official website.

The Fighting Hunger Together initiative has generated more than $122 million in grants and has provided 594 million pounds of food to areas around the U.S., according to the website.

By 2015, Wal-Mart intends to distribute more than 1.1 billion pounds of food from its stores, distribution centers and Sam’s Club outlets, a value of more than $1.7 billion, and award $250 million in grants to support hunger relief organizations.

Fulford said he was confident the community and supporters of Feeding America Kentucky’s Heartland will rise and meet the voting challenge because of its ongoing support of all local nonprofit organizations.

“It’s always amazing to me the kindness and generosity of the people of our community,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.