AUSTINTOWN - The culmination of 98,000 social network ''likes'' turned into $1 million Tuesday at the Walmart Supercenter on Mahoning Avenue.
The likes were part of a Facebook campaign through the Walmart Foundation to Fight Hunger, and they were enough to give the area $1 million in grant money.
The foundation ran a contest on its website, and the area that received the most likes would receive the money. They picked 200 different sites around the country based on unemployment, said Walmart Market Manager Matt Burke.
Mobile Meals Sandra Mathews talks about her agency's share
More than 396,000 people voted on the web during the campaign, part of Walmart's $2 billion commitment to fight hunger in the United States through 2015, Burke said.
''This Facebook campaign has proved everyone can have a role in fighting hunger,'' Burke said.
Michael Iberis, executive director of Second Harvest, said the money will be used for capital improvements, such as equipment for the warehouse, a new freezer / cooler system, a refrigerated truck and educational programs.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Joe Gorman
Bill Husk, left, a warehouse manager at Second Harvest Food Bank, and Ray Hurd load food Tuesday at the food bank’s
Youngstown warehouse. The group just received a $715,000 donation from the Walmart Foundation.
Iberis said the food bank distributed 9 million tons of food last year, and with the improvements, the food bank can have the capacity to house up to 15 million tons. He said it also helps to have the improvements funded by the foundation, so they can use other money they raise on food alone.
Iberis said he is not surprised the area was able to win the contest.
''It doesn't surprise me because I know the people here,'' he said. ''They're champions. That's the only way to describe the people of the Mahoning Valley.''
Nancy Voitus, executive director of Catholic Charities, said they will be using their portion of the money to purchase vehicles to help them in their outreach programs throughout the area.
''We want to get out to underserved areas,'' Voitus said. ''Without this, we would've had a difficult time doing that.''
Sandra Mathews, chief executive officer of Trumbull Mobile Meals, said they will use the money to buy a new freezer, which is desperately needed.
''We were wondering how we were going to do this,'' Mathews said. ''We're thrilled to death. We're just blessed to be part of this history-making day.''
Burke said there were no stipulations on how the groups could spend their money.
The foundation is giving $50,000 to the 20 communities who finished after Youngstown.