MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)--- Together, we raised 3.55 million meals.
It’s the best NBC15 Share Your Holidays grand finale to date, and the meals raised during the Dec. 6 telethon puts the 22nd annual fundraiser on pace for a record-setting year. Donations are still being counted and will be accepted through the end of the year.
"I’m always amazed at the number of people and businesses that are involved and contribute to this event. Around 600-700 volunteers helped sort food and answer phones on Wednesday," said Dan Stein, CEO/President of Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin. "And it all started 22 years ago when one person thought it was unfair to have hunger in our community. Now, it has become this wonderful event and is a perfect example of what one person can do."
This year, the five-week campaign began Nov. 1 with the theme, "Power of ONE." One person. One volunteer. One family. One business. One school. One neighborhood. It takes just one person and one dollar to make a difference.
The "Power of One" theme was inspired by a $3.86 donation made during the 2016 telethon. A female caller shared that she had only $3.86 to give and knew that other people needed it more than she did. She called in during a "Mike's Miracle Minute," where every donation made during that 60-second span was tripled.
Click here to learn more about this year's theme, the "Be Like Mike" award recipients and "why 3.86 meals."
All of the donated dollars and food benefits the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin. It's CEO/President explained the buying power and the calculation behind $1 = 3 meals.
The non-profit helps families and individuals facing food insecurities in 16 southern Wisconsin counties. Second Harvest distributes food to 200 partner agencies and programs.
"[The NBC15 Share Your Holidays] campaign is about 20 percent of what we raise in a given year. And many people we serve are hungry or struggle the entire year, so they’re very grateful that we’re able to provide more services to them," Stein said. "This year, we’re already sending out more than 11 percent more food than we’ve ever done before because the need is there."
Donations will be accepted through the end of the year at nbc15shareyourholidays.com and through the Check Out Hunger program at local grocery stores, including Pick n’ Save, Hy-Vee, Woodman’s, Whole Foods & Metcalfe’s. People also have an opportunity to give through the End Hunger at a Credit Union campaign.
"We can’t do this without the incredible generosity of so many incredible companies, individuals, and volunteers," Stein said. "I don’t know how to say thanks enough. They stepped up and did it again for us."
Share Your Holidays was started by the late and longtime NBC15 Anchor Mike McKinney in 1996. He died in 2006 from cancer.
Mike's mother Barbara McKinney volunteered at Wednesday’s grand finale, taking donations by phone during the first and last shifts of the day. She said this year's theme, "The Power of One," is special because of Mike's original vision for the campaign.
"There were times in his life that we struggled. I was a single mom and we had some very difficult times and you never know the impact of those difficult times on your child and I never knew the impact of that, but he lived with that and he promised himself that if he ever got in a position to give back and help someone else he would," said McKinney.
McKinney said the Dec. 6 Grand Finale was something Mike only dreamed of.
"I've been thinking about what he would say. He would probably say something ridiculous, but seriously, he would look in the camera and he would say 'On behalf of those you will never meet...' that plays over in my head all the time, and he says, 'Thank you,'" said McKinney.
"I think back... I never knew Mike McKinney, but I think he'd be most proud of the fact that what he's done has brought the community together. We all have a common goal - and that's to end hunger," Stein said.
Barbara McKinney also said she believes the record number of meals raised Dec. 6 is just the beginning.
"We can't stop here. The goodness that we do in this community we have to continue to do that outreach to give and show that people care," she said.
During the Dec. 6 grand finale, every dollar donated was matched. Volunteers also helped sort the food that was collected over a 5-week period.
"Sometimes it's just having to look at what you have and making sure that those around you, or even those that aren't around you, have those same experiences...You should always be helping somebody out," said volunteer Dani Kaun.
Kaun shared that one reason she volunteers is because her family once relied on food banks like Second Harvest.
During the 2017 campaign, NBC15 Anchor John Stofflet also shared his personal story about his Mom being hungry as a child.
Another way Second Harvest is getting food to families in need is through a new screening program called HungerCare, Stein said. Pediatricians are asking their patients and parents a series of questions that reveal whether they have access to food. Stein said 128,000 people were screened in a three-year period.
"They’re asked two different questions, ‘Have you ever been concerned about running out of food?’ and the second one is, ‘Have you ever run out of food? If the answer to either one of those is ‘yes,’ they introduce resources to help that situation," Stein said.
Stein said about two percent of people screened actually tested “yes,” meaning about 2,200 families have been helped through the program. He also said access to healthy foods is crucial. Studies show a poor diet can lead to children not doing as well in school and having health issues, Stein said.
"If we can identify these problems at the beginning, we can prevent some of these things from happening," Stein said.
Also at this year’s grand finale, 32 participating schools were recognized for collectively raising 42,047 meals.
The top five schools involved are as follows:
Mauston High School: 27,565 meals
Chavez Elementary, Madison: 3,630 meals
Edgewood High School: 2,338 meals
Madison Country Day School: 2,038 meals
Franklin Elementary, Madison: 1,743 meals
The top 10 Business Food & Fund Drive participants were also recognized:
Epic: 101,418 meals
Affiliated Engineers: 94,006 meals
Dean Health Plan: 41,170 meals
First Weber Foundation: 39,507 meals
Potter Lawson: 37,140 meals
Steve Brown Apartments: 25,512 meals
UW Health: 21,228 meals
Suttle-Straus: 15,155 meals
MilliporeSigma: 12,609 meals
Bluetree Network: 11,833 meals
Thanks to all of you, the families, volunteers, families, businesses, schools and neighborhoods for helping eliminate hunger here at home.
We invite you to watch this year’s journey and our previous stories through our special web section, NBC15 Share Your Holidays campaign.