By CHRIS AGEE
Upon being selected as one of the top 21 stores in the corporation, the Mineral Wells Whataburger earned a spot in the biennial WhataGames competition beginning later this week.
As part of this year's event, each of the finalists chose a local charity to compete for a $5,000 donation from Whataburger.
The local eatery picked the Backpack Buddies program, which operates under the First United Methodist Church food pantry, and is hoping to attract enough last-minute voters to push the program to first place.
Voting, which takes place via an application on Whataburger's Facebook page, ends next Thursday and, as of Friday afternoon, the Mineral Wells location was ranked fourth out of the 21 participating teams.
Despite the relatively small community, Whataburger spokesperson Monica Maldonado said support for the local charity extends outside of Palo Pinto County.
"Because we're partnering with the Tarrant Area Food Bank for funds to go specifically to Mineral Wells, we're reaching out through their network and outside of Mineral Wells," she said.
She explained stores belong to a designated zone and the Mineral Wells restaurant is receiving exposure throughout the region.
"While Mineral Wells might be in an isolated market, they're getting full exposure in the zone," she said.
According to Maldonado, management at the local Whataburger has worked with the TAFB in the past and chose to involve the organization in this competition.
"Each general manager in the semifinals was allowed to choose an organization they would like," she said, explaining the local manager chose "expanding service to Mineral Wells to help out the First United Methodist Church that does a similar program."
Tammy Lovell, coordinator of the FUMC food pantry and Backpack Buddies program, said the donation would go a long way in providing nourishment to area youth who do not receive adequate food at home.
"We feed about 170 kids a week," she said. "It takes three dollars to feed each child so ... with the $5,000 we could feed them for almost 10 weeks."
The program provides "healthy, filling food that doesn't require heating and water," Lovell said, and serves students of all ages.
"If we find out there's a child at home, younger siblings, we'll send extra food home with them," she added.
The church's pastor, Rev. Lianne Turner, said she received a call from Maldonado informing her the program was chosen as a contender for the donation. She explained the Backpack Buddies program has grown in recent years and can make sure the funds go to help those in need.
"Our goal is to not have any children in the community go hungry over the weekend," she said.
Lovell said she is grateful Whataburger selected the program to highlight in the online-voting event.
"This was a total surprise they chose us," she said.
Those interested in supporting the Backpack Buddies program can visit the Whataburger Facebook page and click on the prominently displayed link to vote.