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Bank on a mission to feed the hungry

Susquehanna's million meal effort benefits regional food banks

By Laura Barnhardt Cech, For The Baltimore Sun

4:22 PM EST, December 15, 2013

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Susquehanna Bank could have collected cans of beans and jars of peanut butter for local food banks in cardboard boxes. Instead, the regional bank is making its contributions via Facebook.

For each "like," "share" or comment on its daily Stellar Deed posts on the popular social media website, the regional bank is donating five meals to area hunger relief nonprofits including the Maryland Food Bank.

"What really excited our partners was not only our contribution but also our help spreading awareness about hunger and food insecurity issues," Alison van Harskamp, senior vice president of brand communications at Susquehanna Bank, says, adding, "We're getting the word out about what food banks do in communities."

Susquehanna is also donating 25 meals for each new personal checking account opened at the bank through Dec. 31, and five meals for every re-tweet of a Stellar Deeds, or "like" of its Facebook page.

The social media aspect of Susquehanna's Million Meal Mission is welcome, says Deborah Flateman, president and CEO of the Maryland Food Bank. "The awareness piece is key."

More than 460,000 Marylanders aren't certain about where their next meal is coming from, even though most of them have jobs, Flateman says.

The Maryland Food Bank provides 30 million meals per year, but there are still 74.6 million meals being missed, despite the efforts of area nonprofits and government programs, Flateman says.

Susquehanna's campaign will generate about $10,000 for the Maryland Food Bank this month and will be used for holiday meals, says Flateman.

The company also sends volunteers to help at the food banks. During a recent Ravens game, bank employees stood in the freezing cold to collect $13,000 for the hungry, says Flateman.

"They really are a great corporate partner," she adds.

The bank, which has 240 branches in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and West Virginia, has donated more than a million meals since beginning its food drive three years ago.

The Facebook campaign began Nov. 1 and runs through the end of December. Several times a week, the bank posts a Stellar Deed of the Day, which encourages courtesies such as, "Offer to walk someone's dog," or "Thank a veteran."

"They seem like small, simple things, but they make up a great community," van Harskamp says. "It's kind of pay it forward."

Reaction from customers has been positive, van Harskamp says. Posts about shoveling sidewalks for neighbors, donating blood and giving up a parking spot have been especially popular.

"It's been inspiring, I think," van Harskamp says. "We try to promote what is positive about what's happening where we live and work."

Susquehanna Bank's Stellar Deeds have been liked and shared more than 15,000 times on Facebook and Twitter since the virtual food drive began last month.

Together, the efforts have resulted in more than 236,000 meal contributions — or more than $59,000 — to regional banks. Each dollar provides four meals, says Matthew Kemeny, a Susquehanna spokesman

In addition to the Maryland Food Bank, Susquehanna donates to a variety of nonprofits in the Mid-Atlantic region, including the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Food Bank, Central PA Food Bank and the Mountaineer Food Bank in West Virginia.

Susquehanna's total charitable giving is expected to be about $3.5 million this year, according to Kemeny. In addition to food banks, Susquehanna supports many other local charities, van Harskamp says.

"We like to give where we live," she says.

Pairing with local food banks makes sense because hunger exists in every community, whether it's urban, rural or suburban, van Harskamp says.

"We also know that they're making good use of every dollar," she says. "They take $1 and stretch it incredibly far."

Stellar Deeds are posted at: facebook.com/susquehannabank. More information is also available at: susquehanna.net/millionmealmission

For more information about the Maryland Food Bank, go to mdfoodbank.org.