Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
In a national online Wal-Mart poll of nearly 300 organizations, the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund finished in first place to win a $20,000 grant to help send hungry students home with a weekend pack of food. The voting ended April 30 and the Hope Fund led with 11,605 votes.
Halfway through the campaign in April, the Hope Fund held third place and was only trailing first place by 70 votes. It was a close race. When the voting ended this week, the Hope Fund not only moved into first place, it also widened its lead substantially — 3,215 votes ahead of second place, which went to Twigs Family Treehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y. with 8,390 votes.
“I was really overwhelmed. Talk about this community stepping to the plate and pulling together — something that we get criticized so often for not doing — it’s just amazing how this community rallied around this cause and wanted to make sure there was no doubt that we got that grant. We are just so blessed,” said Mark Hunter.
Named in the memory of their son, Mark and Virgie Hunter started the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund Powerpack Program in 2010 with 120 students at the Portsmouth City School District. Today the program has grown to serve nearly 500 students in nine local school districts. The program provides each student with five pounds of food to take home for the weekend.
Mark Hunter said Wal-Mart asked each of the foodbanks that they deal with across the United States to nominate five organizations. The Hope Fund was nominated by the Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati, which serves 20 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Of the five submitted by the Freestore Foodbank, only two were accepted by Wal-Mart to participate in the program — the Hope Fund and another organization in Kentucky.
The public decided what organization would receive the grants through a voting campaign at Wal-Mart’s website and Facebook page. The list included 177 agencies, including the Hope Fund, and 122 foodbanks from across the country.
“They (Wal-Mart) have made a $2 billion commitment to fight hunger through 2015. $1.75 billion is in-kind, and that will be food donations that go to the food banks. $250 million are cash grants, and they’ve divided it up into two pots. One pot, the foodbanks themselves are competing for. I don’t know the number, but it’s so-many $45,000 grants. The other pot goes to what they refer to as partner agencies,” Hunter said. “The top 60 vote getters will each get a $20,000 grant.”
In addition to the top 60 agencies, Wal-Mart also awarded grants to the top 40 foodbanks. Second Harvest Foodbank of Northeast Tennessee finished first among foodbanks, with 8,537 votes.
When he started the Wal-Mart campaign a month ago, Hunter said that even if the Hope Fund did not place among the top 60 agencies to receive funding, this was still an amazing opportunity to make people aware of what they are doing in Scioto County schools. He might have gotten more than he expected when the polls closed Tuesday night and the Hope Fund was not only counted among the top 60, but held a commanding lead in first place.
Hunter said the number of people sharing the link on Facebook and posting their vote number every day helped keep them visible to remind others to vote. Wal-Mart in New Boston also helped remind people to vote.
“I can’t emphasize enough our local Wal-Mart. I think that made a big difference because it was totally up to each store if they even wanted to do anything to help their local agency in this. Ours not only decided to help us, but Bill Mason (Wal-Mart store manager) I don’t know what he could have possibly done to have helped us more than he did. He had signs at every register. They were also making announcements over the speakers. From the moment I sat down and talked with him, he was 100 percent on making sure we got this grant,” Hunter said.
A spokesperson for Wal-Mart said the company had no comment on Wednesday, but would issue a statement about the poll results next week.
More information about the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund is available on its website, at www.stevenshopefund.org, and on its Facebook page.
Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.