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As the food and gift-centered holiday season approaches, the fact that one in four local people receive food support from the 300 Santa Barbara County Foodbank programs and its partners each year can be sometimes overlooked.

Of those people, 38 percent are children.

But through fundraising efforts, volunteering and food donations, local businesses are making sure that doesn't happen.

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s annual "End Hunger Games" Corporate Challenge kicked-off at the start of October with 17 local companies participating in a two-month competition. Each team is awarded points based on tallied cash and food donations, volunteer hours worked and social media posts promoting the Foodbank.

“The goal of the challenge is for participating teams to earn as many points in the two-month period as possible, and also for participating team members to gain a deeper understanding of the work we do here,” said the Foodbank's Corporate Development Manager, Nathalie Keller.

Santa Barbara County ranked 14th worst out of California’s 58 counties in terms of meeting its residents’ daily food needs, according to Feeding America's 2014 Hunger in America report. The Foodbank says they have continued to make strides in the area of hunger and food insecurity -- they distributed over 10 million pounds of food in 2017 – nearly half of which was fresh produce. The organization feeds families countywide, including the city of Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Solvang, Buellton, Santa Ynez, Los Alamos, and others. 

And what better way to engage local community leaders to help fight hunger than to create a healthy game of "who can make the biggest impact in two months?"

"I think we're doing something unique by engaging corporate partners. I think that's something other nonprofits might not be doing," said Keller. "We've found this to be a great way to bring on new Foodbank ambassadors that will help us spread the word about the needs of families throughout our county."

Participating in this years' End Hunger Games are mainly South County companies, many of which are repeat volunteers, Apeel Sciences, AppFolio, Belmond El Encanto, Brighten Solar, Brown & Brown, CIO Solutions, Deckers, Evidation Health, FastSpring, Impact Hub, Karl Storz, Procore, Ritz Carlton Bacara, Select Staffing, Sonos, WELL Health and Yardi.

According to Keller, being a new-hire out of the Santa Barbara office in May, made it slightly more challenging to reach out and visit North County partners this year. "But it's my goal for 2019," she quickly added. The Foodbank has both a North County and South County presence, with an office in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.

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She said that in addition to the food drive focused on donations of healthy, shelf-stable groceries and turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday, the participating teams are encouraged to sign-up for volunteer hours, set up fundraising pages to help the Foodbank meet its $50,000 goal for the challenge, and help further promote the Foodbank's mission. 

The corporate challenge will end on Nov. 30. An awards ceremony will take place at the Foodbank’s Santa Barbara warehouse on Dec. 6, where the winner will be announced.

"Last year through the Games, we raised $55,000; 6,000 pounds of food was donated; and 350 volunteer hours were recorded," said Keller. "Though our baseline goal is to raise $50,000, we're always looking to exceed our previous years' goal." 

Companies interested in participating in future Santa Barbara County "End Hunger Games" corporate challenges should contact Nathalie Keller for more information, at nkeller@foodbanksbc.org. Volunteer opportunities are available at the Foodbank’s Santa Barbara warehouse, and for ongoing programs and special events. 

Anyone can donate as an individual, or in support of a competing team, by visiting the End Hunger Games website at donate.foodbanksbc.org/endhungergames2018. Donation drop-off locations are located in Santa Maria at 490 W. Foster Road, and 4554 Hollister Ave., in Goleta. 

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This report was compiled by Lisa André. You can reach her at landre@leecentralcoastnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @LAndréSYVNews  

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