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Published September 22 2010

Group seeks Pepsi campaign help

A group of Otter Tail County, Minn., residents hopes to score $25,000 from a buzz-worthy Pepsi campaign to fund community projects.

The group is raising funds for weekend food programs at Otter Tail County schools. Its pitch is gaining traction on the Pepsi Refresh Project website, where volunteers can solicit votes for pet causes.

Friends of Friends Fighting Hunger ranks 100th of 1,000 projects competing this month. Members hope they can muster the votes yet to make it in the top 10.

“We’re really trying to get people to vote, but there’s a lot of competition,” said Mary Phillipe, executive director of United Way of Otter Tail County.

Two districts in the county, Perham-Dent and New York Mills, already have so-called backpack programs: Volunteers discreetly depositing food in student backpacks on Fridays to tide them over during the school-lunch-free weekend.

The other six districts are looking to start such programs. Friends of Friends, a group of area professionals, set out to help. In the past couple of years, the group has thrown a January benefit that raised a total of $90,000 for local food shelves.

“We are an energetic group of folks who think doing the right thing every day is important and pays great dividends,” said member Connie Caspers.

The Pepsi Refresh Project would speed things up. The company is spending at least $20 million this year on the project instead of advertising during the Super Bowl. Each month, visitors to www.refresheverything.com can pick among 1,000 community projects, which stand to win between $5,000 and $250,000. They can vote for their favorites daily.

Friends are seeking $25,000, the estimated cost of sustaining backpack programs in the county for a school year. Local volunteers point out that it’s hard to compete against metro-area projects with wide bases of support. But they are not losing hope.

Even if they don’t win, the volunteers are determined to fund the programs. It’s just that, says Caspers, “That would kick-start this project immediately.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529