By hosting workplace events such as bake sales, chili cook-offs, change wars and other employee challenges, dozens of Quad-City area businesses and organizations helped raise more than a half million meals to fight hunger in the community. 

The month-long Community Hunger Drive campaign raised a record 504,356 meals in collected funds and food last month for River Bend Foodbank, the agency's leaders announced Thursday at a celebration. Every dollar raised provides five meals.

About 75 employees from the 56 participating companies gathered Thursday for a meal at Holiday Inn & Suites/J Bar to hear the campaign results and be recognized for their efforts. 

"We're trying to position this as fun for a great cause," said Michael Miller, president and CEO of River Bend, based in Davenport. "We hold this in the doldrums of mid-winter for a purpose. It's intended to be fun and morale building." 

Throughout February, the participants each held individual campaigns among their employees and/or customers to raise donations for River Bend.

This year's final tally beat out last year's record of 363,249 meals.  

Leslie Corlett, River Bend's major gifts officer, said of the 56 businesses, 13 were first-time participants. She thanked the employees who volunteer to organize their workplace campaigns on top of their regular jobs.

She noted some of the new fundraising ideas such as retailer T.J. Maxx, who won the Most Creative Fundraising Event award. After raising the most money in a donation jar, one of the store's managers agreed to an arm-wrestling match.

"Who wouldn't want to see their boss arm-wrestle," Corlett told the packed room. 

For Southeast National Bank, the effort is fun and morale-building, said Jennifer Rouse, vice president of retail and marketing.

In a new fundraiser, she said employees paid to have their co-workers wear a fake mustache for 30 minutes during their shift. The bank raised 18,316 meals last month. 

Participating in their first Community Hunger Drive campaign were Hy-Vee's Quad-Cities and Clinton stores, which raised at least 80,000 meals — the final count is not completed. Debbie Geisler, the Quad-Cities marketing coordinator, said the Midwest grocer launched a company-wide Feed the Need project last month to help fill area food pantries. The donations raised at Quad-City area stores were combined into the Community Hunger Drive. 

In addition to raising donations from customers rounding up their bills, Geisler said store employees engaged in their own challenges. In fact, the East Kimberly store in Davenport raised $7,433 — more than any store in the chain after seeing it was $500 behind an Omaha store. "They rallied the employees to donate and ended up $1,000 ahead," she said.

Miller said that type of competitive fun allowed Quad-City businesses to help feed the 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 5 children in the community who do not have enough food. 

Since he joined the foodbank in 2015, the agency has set a goal of tripling the meals it raises by 2025. In 2018, River Bend doubled its 2014 collections raising 15.1 million meals.

"We're not talking about (providing) three square meals a day," he said. Miller estimates that about 120,930 people in eastern Iowa and western Illinois miss nearly two weeks of meals each month.

The 10-year goal is to raise 20.6 million meals a year. "That's what it's going to take to end hunger," Miller said.    

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