Backpack Buddies, a function of Starkville’s First United Methodist Church, won Starkville Restaurant Week’s charity competition and a $5,000 donation from Cadence Bank after securing almost 43 percent of the week’s total ballots.
Greater Starkville Development Partnership officials collected approximately 12,823 total ballots from the fourth iteration of the restaurant week, a figure topping last year’s 12,356 tally.
Backpack Buddies, which provides meals to 200 elementary and middle school children each week, will use the donation to expand its program into the high school ranks next fall, said program coordinator Susan Tomlinson.
“I’m so appreciative. We try to plant the seeds of volunteerism. We have over 200 that help throughout the year. We couldn’t have done this without their help and without the support of the voters,” she said. “If everybody does just a little bit and we all worth together, we can continue to make Starkville the best place in the United States to live.”
The organization received 5,530 votes in this year’s competition, beating out second-place charity Grassroots Animal Rescue (3,701 votes) and third-place finisher Vets for Vets (3,592 votes).
The runners up didn’t leave Friday’s donation ceremony emptyhanded. Vollor Law Firm donated $1,000 to Grassroots Animal Rescue, while Vets for Vets received a $500 check courtesy of Copy Cow.
The Partnership also awarded Bulldog Burger Co. with the year’s Good Eats, Do Good Award, which recognizes a participating restaurant for the ballots it generates, event promotion and spirit of participation.
The fourth iteration of Starkville Restaurant Week featured 30 restaurants and was fueled by crowds in Starkville for Mississippi State University’s baseball series against Ole Miss.
“With nearly 13,000 ballots returned, Starkville Restaurant Week remains the largest restaurant week in the state of Mississippi, which is a true testament to the strength and diversity of our restaurant community,” said Partnership Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Gregory. “Starkville is a restaurant destination in our geographic region, and this event aims to showcase that culinary strength that is so unique to our area.”
Since Starkville Restaurant Week launched in 2013, 2 percent food and beverage tax returns for March have steadily increased. The event is specifically held after spring break, a historically slow time for restaurants and businesses in the community.
A charity aspect was incorporated to entice potential diners to eat at participating restaurants. After nominating three organizations, restaurant patrons receive ballots for ordering entrees and cast votes for a specific charity to receive a cash donation.
The Partnership uses the ballots to track the effectiveness of its promotions by tracking how far away visitors travel to dine in Starkville restaurants and use the information to stock its advertising data base.
“We love this event because it not only showcases our restaurants, but it brings the community together on the premise of charitable organizations,” Gregory said. “Community members feel compelled to eat frequently because they can have a part in supporting a local business and a local non-profit organization, so it’s a win-win for our entire community. We saw a substantial economic impact from the previous three Starkville Restaurant Weeks, and we’re hoping for another significant March. As usual, we have high hopes that this promotion will benefit our local businesses and the community as a whole.”
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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