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Social media helps to fill up food pantries

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From now through New Year's Eve, if you "like" either the Facebook or Pinterest pages for T.G.I. Friday's restaurant, the equivalent of a can of food will got to Mountaineer Food Bank, up to 5,000 cans.The "Can for a Fan" campaign, now in its third year, was created by the Bistro Group, which has T.G.I. Friday's franchises in Cross Lanes and on Corridor G. Pinterest was added this year as the company experiments with community-focused social media marketing."It's a virtual food drive," said Amie Dancu, Bistro's director of marketing. "This gave us a way to reach our consumers and, in essence, connect them into the community."After the 'likes' are counted, Bistro will actually donate a check equivalent to the equivalent number of that many cans of food, which will likely mean a larger amount of food going to the food bank. "The definitely can make the dollars go farther with their grocery partners a little better than we can," said Dancu.Given the geographically widespread mission of Mountaineer Food Bank, they'll take help anywhere they can find it, said the food bank's executive director, Carla Nardella.Based in Braxton County, the food bank distributed more than 9.5 million pounds of food last year to 48 counties in West Virginia. The food was redistributed to more than 600 feeding programs across the state. The food bank is an affiliate of Feeding America, the largest non-profit feeding program in the United States, she said.Nardella has been working at the food bank for 29 years come this January. She recalls the thinking in pre-social media days on how to grab the public's attention for a food drive.Bright yellow or green paper on your media press releases was one good idea, Nardella said. "I can remember having a workshop at a Feeding America conference and they said make sure you put your press release on really bright paper to catch their eyes."These days, web and social media campaigns bolster the food bank's work in ways large and small.
"We also participated in a Wal-Mart Facebook promotion that happened back in late Spring, early Summer and because of that ended up receiving $50,000," she said.A total of about $30,000 came to the Mountaineer "to help us purchase what we do," she said. Another $20,000 went to buy refrigerators, freezers, an industrial stove and shelving for food pantries in the Wood County area near a Parkersburg Walmart.The Bistro Group "virtual" food drive is a smaller effort, but no amount of food is small when a family is hungry, said Nardella. "It takes every bit - all the food drives, all the little donations, everything helps."A lot of times, I'll  tell people when talking to them about doing a food drive -- you get kind of busy. It's so easy to say, 'Oh, shoot! I forgot that can of soup and that grocery bag on the kitchen table.' But, boy, if you're on the other end and that can of soup is the only thing you've got to eat, it's your whole world."For the T.G.I. Friday's promotion, a can of food is donated when people 'like' this page: A can is also donated if people go to T.G.I Friday's Can For A Fan Pinterest board, and like the Mountaineer Food Bank pinned logo.But diners at the restaurant can also use their smart phone to scan the QR code for "Can for a Fan" found inside the T.G.I. Friday's menu, which will count toward a can of food, said The Bistro Group's Dancu.
"The intention is to make it as easy and simple from the point of sale in the restaurant," she said. "So, while they're waiting for their appetizers, they have just donated a can of food to the Mountaineer Food Bank."Reach Douglas Imbrogno at or 304-348-3017.  
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