The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank's 2017 Harvest for Hunger Kick-Off event was on Wednesday morning. The campaign goal is to raise $1.25 million and 100,000 pounds of food.

AKRON  The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank kicked off its annual Harvest for Hunger campaign Wednesday morning with a goal of raising $1.25 million and 100,000 pounds of food this year. 

Dan Flowers, president and CEO of the food bank, implored those attending a kick-off breakfast to help lead the campaign not only to provide food for those in need but also to enrich their spirits with compassion and love. Area officials and employees of businesses in the region were on hand as well as representatives of campaign sponsors and partnering agencies.

"That's a lot of money," he said. "We're going to have to fight tooth and claw for it."

Raising and inflecting his voice before those gathered in the warehouse area of the food bank, Flowers said, "Be here with us in this campaign. Let's meet this goal and make food first."

By donating and inspiring others to contribute to the campaign, "you are shining a mirror back on the goodness that is alive in you," he said.

The food bank serves an eight-county area in Northeast Ohio, including Stark, Carroll, Tuscarawas, Summit, Portage, Wayne and Holmes counties. The Harvest for Hunger campaign is being led by Jim Porter, publisher of The Canton Repository and other GateHouse Ohio Media newspapers, and Mark Cohen, publisher of the Akron Beacon Journal. Cohen and Porter are serving as honorary campaign co-chairs.

Stark County has around 100 food pantries, hot meal locations and other hunger-relief sites affiliated with the Akron-Canton Foodbank.

Harvest for Hunger is the food bank's largest fundraising initiative and is a collaborative effort of four Ohio food banks serving 21 counties in Northeast Ohio. Joining the Akron-Canton Foodbank in the effort are the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Second Harvest Food Bank of Mahoning Valley and the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio.

All of the donations raised in the campaign will go directly toward feeding men, women and children in the region. The six most needed food items are boxed cereal, peanut butter, canned vegetables, canned tuna, canned soup and canned beef stew.

The Harvest for Hunger campaign includes nearly 300 businesses, schools, community organizations and families holding food and fund drives in March and April. To register a food and fund drive, download a coordinator's kit from the foodbank's website: akroncantonfoodbank.org.

Another component of the campaign is "Check Out Hunger." Participating retailers include Buehler's Fresh Foods, Dave's Supermarkets, Fishers Foods, Giant Eagle, Ace Hardware and Heinen's Fine Foods. Starting on Sunday, "Check Out Hunger" allows shoppers to scan coupons and make donations of $1, $5 or $10 at the checkout register.

Others speaking at the event included Shelly Hinton, vice president of the Akron-Canton Foodbank, and Mark Purtilar, chairman of the food bank's board of directors and chief procurement officer for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

Flowers cited numbers illustrating the impact and reach of the Akron-Canton Foodbank.

A total of one in seven adults and one in four children struggle with hunger in Northeast Ohio, according to the food bank. And every $1 donated provides four whole meals in the eight-county region served by the non-profit organization, Flowers said.

Also, 67 percent of the clients served by the food bank report having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities; 81 percent of clients who are served say they purchase the cheapest food available even if they know it's not the healthiest option.

An average of 92,000 meals worth of food is distributed from the food bank daily. Hunger-relief partners operate nearly 500 food pantries, hot meal sites, shelters and other programs in neighborhoods and communities where people need food.

More than 250,000 people sought food assistance through the food bank's charitable network last year, Flowers said.

"The foodbank's size and scale are what makes it the best charitable investment you can make," he said.

Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 or ed.balint@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @ebalintREP