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Posted: December 6, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Food fight

General Mills kicks off new campaign to combat hunger

By Gabriel Khouli/

In an effort to fight hunger, General Mills is donating 4.4 million boxes of cereal to food banks around the nation, beginning in Covington.

According to data from the U.S. government, more than 49 million Americans did not get enough to eat at some point in 2008. Exasperated by the economic downturn, that number is the highest total in 14 years. General Mills is partnering with Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger-relief charity, and Bob Harper from NBC show "The Biggest Loser" to bring awareness to the country’s hunger issue through its Wake Up to Hunger campaign.

The campaign started Friday at the Covington cereal plant, where local General Mills’ employees helped load 10,000 boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios onto trucks destined for Atlanta area food banks. Across the nation, General Mills will donate 49 million bowls to food banks, one for each American that went hungry last year.

"We’ve been a partner of Feeding America for 30 years and we’ve donated nearly $170 million in products over the last decade," said John Church, senior vice president of supply chain for General Mills. "But we’re upping our game this year, because the challenges we have to meet are greater."

General Mills is well known for its community partnership and Church said the company annually donates 5 percent of its pre-tax earnings to communities. He said this latest donation comes to about $10 million.

The campaign started in Covington because it is the largest cereal producing plant in North America. Bill Bolling, executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, said cereal is one of the best foods that can be donated to food banks.

"Cereal is a great choice because its healthy and it’s a dry good so it lasts. It’s one of our highest demand products," Bolling said. "This event is really neat because its neighbors helping neighbors."

Although Bolling oversees food banks across the Metro Atlanta area, he said Covington food banks would have first dibs on the cereal Friday. Georgia and Covington have been particularly hard hit by the downturn, and Bolling said demand at area food banks has increased by 38 percent this year.

Harper, from the popular "The Biggest Loser" series, was brought in because General Mills is a supporter of the show, including the annual Pound-for-Pound Challenge. For every pound participants lose, General Mills donates 14 cents to Feeding America, the cost to deliver one pound of food to a local food bank. The Pound-for-Pound Challenge starts on Dec. 8 following the season finale of "The Biggest Loser."

The local Covington plant was the winner of the General Mills Pound-for-Pound challenge. Church said the company and its employees are committed to continued investment in Covington.

"We started our employment in Covington 20 years ago, and our employment has grown year after year. We make sure we’re holding up our end of the bargain of supporting this community through our strong spirit of volunteerism," he said.

The Wake Up to Hunger campaign also kicked off at General Mills plants in Cincinnati, Ohio and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Eight General Mills plants around the nation are participating in the event.

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