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Backpack Buddies, a program that provides ready-to-eat, non-perishable meal packages for Starkville-area school kids was announced as the $5,000 grand prize winner of Starkville Restaurant Week on Friday.

Nearly 13,000 votes were cast—with over 5,000 for the winning program—during Starkville Restaurant Week which saw 30 restaurants participate in the culinary benefit campaign.

Since 2013, Starkville Restaurant Week has generated a 12.6 percent increase in total food and beverage tax collections for the month of March in Starkville, according to Greater Starkville Development Partnership Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Gregory.

“The event has always been about supporting local restaurants and charities,” Gregory said. “However, economic impact is always something that we keep in mind.”

Vote counts have increased since starting in 2013, she added.

The grand prize—presented by Cadence Bank—will go towards starting a high school meal package program for students at Starkville High School, according to Backpack Buddies Coordinator Susan Tomlinson.

“We have to go and talk with the principal and get the logistics worked out of how we are going to sort the meals and how we are going to get the meals to students on Friday afternoons,” Tomlinson said.

She thanked the support of all those who volunteered with the program. It currently serves 200 school kids ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade throughout the Oktibbeha County Consolidated School District.

“They really made a difference by giving their time in a very gracious way,” Tomlinson said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

By working through discretely providing the meals to students, all those in need can be reached. School councilors work with program volunteers to locate at-risk students.

“We have a special challenge in that high schools students aren’t as eager to pick up the meals,” Tomlinson said. “Maybe it’s peer pressure or pride.”

The program started in 2011, and the First United Methodist Church program now includes prepackaged meals for families, in addition to individual students, Tomlinson said.

The program costs about $1,000 per week to order meals.

For more information on Backpack Buddies, call First United Methodist Church at 662-323-5260, and ask for Tomlinson.

Other winners

Grassroots Animal Rescue took home the second place, $1,000 prize presented by Vollor Law Firm. The group received nearly 4,000 votes.

Grassroots Animal Rescue is a foster-based animal rescue center serving North Mississippi and surrounding areas. Many unwanted, needy or abandoned dogs in the area are in danger of being euthanized, the group said. In addition to fostering dogs with local families, the group works with PetSmart Rescue Waggin’, a national group, to move dogs who cannot find homes in the area to other states where there is greater demand.

The third place finisher, Vets for Vets, received a $500 prize—presented by Copy Cow—for tallying just over 3,500 votes.

Vets for Vets looks to provide care, wellness and rehabilitation services targeting currently deployed military or law enforcement canines. The campaign looks to help improve the quality of life of the service animals. The organization also raises funds and awareness about the needs of service dogs.

This year’s “Good Eats, Do Good” restaurant award went to Bulldog Burger Company. The award is determined by the total number of ballots collected by each restaurant, divided by the total number of tables served at each restaurant, while contrasting the totals with Starkville Restaurant Week promotion efforts by each restaurant.

Starkville Restaurant Week was produced by the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau, an entity of GSDP.

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