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Mahoning Valley wins top prize of $1M

Published: Tue, May 1, 2012 @ 12:10 a.m.

second harvest food bank

By William K. Alcorn



The Mahoning Valley’s successful effort to win $1 million in grants, the top prize in the Walmart Foundation’s Fighting Hunger Together Facebook campaign, is a product of the compassion and caring of its residents.

“This initiative simply brought to light the plight and need of many of our friends and neighbors and our response to them,” said Michael Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.

“We’ve illustrated to the state and nation that we are caring people, and more importantly, that we’re willing to make the effort to do something about it,” he said.

Iberis and Nancy Voitus, executive director of Diocese of Youngstown Catholic Charities Regional Agency, met informally Monday to discuss ways they would like to see the Walmart grants spent.

“Our intent is to channel the money into programs that we can build and sustain for years. We would like to expand education about nutrition and smart shopping, stretching food dollars better, and more-healthy cooking,” she said.

The education component is very important. Learning to cook from scratch is important in enhancing the nutrition of a meal. That resonates with a lot of people, Iberis said.

The unofficial final results were posted at midnight Monday when voting ended.

The Mahoning Valley, known for the Walmart Facebook campaign as the Youngstown-Warren Area, received 98,690 votes to win the $1 million in grants.

In second and third place respectively, winning $50,000 each, are Johnson City, Tenn., with 66,367 votes, and Fresno, Calif., with 27,929 votes.

Becky Miller, manager of resource development for Second Harvest, said they never imagined winning the competition.

“We feel great, and we’re extremely humbled by the outpouring of support,” she said. “We can’t be more thrilled for this community because it’s going to benefit a lot of people.”

However, before the official winner is announced, the Walmart development team will validate the votes to confirm the Leader Board results. Also, the team will determine which organizations, based on their community impact in fighting hunger, will receive the money, said Kelly Cheeseman, Walmart corporate spokeswoman.

Grant recipients will be announced May 15.

Voitus said she thought all along the Mahoning Valley had a definite chance to win $50,000. But she said: “I was pleasantly surprised at the surge that put us in a position to win $1 million. It means a lot of people and organizations joined together for a common mission. It’s amazing, really.”

What this community has done has been an educational moment for many of its young people because they see that their voices can make a difference when they get behind a common cause. Too many people in the nation feel they don’t have the ability to make a change, Iberis said.

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