Set to begin Nov. 22 and run through Christmas Eve, the annual fundraising effort features coupons offering discounts and specials sold at some 20 Burger King restaurants in Lorain, Erie, Huron, western Cuyahoga and Ottawa counties, according to Second Harvest Executive Director Julie Chase-Morefield.
This year’s goal is to provide more than 250,000 meals for needy families in Lorain, Erie and Huron counties.
The project has raised more than $800,000 since its inception.
Broadening the scope of the program not only answers a change sought by Burger King, but also meets a notable increase in the number of people seeking food.
“We’re really seeing a lot more going on this year due in large part to cuts in food stamps,” Chase-Morefield said.
The federal food-stamp program was cut back when federal stimulus funds earmarked for food stamps in 2009 expired Nov 1.
The move translated to a 5.5 percent cut in monthly food-stamp assistance that meant about $30 less per month for a household with one parent and two children, and roughly $36 less per month for a household of four.
Those cuts, in turn, put more pressure on food bank and food pantry programs, including Second Harvest, which serves some 77,000 people, including 32,000 children via 100-plus food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters and after-school programs in Lorain, Erie, Huron and Crawford counties.
Lorain County is home to about 44,000 of the 1.8 million Ohioans receiving food stamps.
The loss of stimulus money follows earlier cutbacks in food-stamp funding and more restrictive eligibility criteria.
“We’ve heard from one local soup kitchen that the big topic of conversation the first week of the month has been the cut in food stamps,” Chase-Morefield said.
“This particular kitchen has had twice as many people coming to meals. People are wondering how they’ll make it and now they’re going to local soup kitchens,” Chase-Morefield said.
While Erie and Huron counties are being added for the first time to the 2013 campaign, a small number of Burger King restaurants in western Cuyahoga County and in the Port Clinton area in Ottawa County will also sell the 25-cent or five-for-$1 coupons to generate money for local food pantries in those counties, Chase-Morefield said.
“When we began, there were fewer than six to eight Burger Kings involved,” Chase-Morefield said. “The first year, they raised a couple thousand dollars.”
The decision to expand the scope of the Holiday Cheer effort was made by Burger King representatives who wanted to streamline operations by centralizing the project through Second Harvest instead of working with numerous food pantries.
Another change in this year’s campaign will see six meals provided for every $1 sale of coupons.
“Some years the figure is up and some it’s down, depending on distributions (of food),” Chase-Morefield said.
Individual food pantries determine whether families receive complete meals, including turkeys or hams.
“Each one decides what the people they serve on a regular basis are in need of,” Chase-Morefield said.
The Holiday Cheer Kick-Off Breakfast is 7 to 10 a.m. Nov. 22 at the downtown Elyria Burger King, 616 Broad St.
The annual program is co-sponsored by WOBL 1320-AM and “Kool Kat” Oldies WDLW 1380-AM.