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Google Gives Cash and Food to Second Harvest

This is the ninth consecutive year the Mountain View company holds an employee shopping spree at Costco for bragging rights and a good cause.

and its Mountain View employees will donate $760,000 and nearly $40,000 worth of groceries to Second Harvest Food Bank this holiday season.

And since it's Google, there's a little bit of friendly competition involved.

For the ninth consecutive year, volunteers received cash to purchase items at from a recommended food shopping list. The team that came the closest and quickest to the $400 amount without going over won the right to brag. Second Harvest, however, won a lot more.

"This is important for all the reasons you already know. There's a shrinking middle class and there's a growing number of hungry people," said Second Harvest CEO Kathy Jackson about the nearly 250,000 people who currently get food from the agency every month. "We provide food to one in ten families here in Mountain View, and San Mateo and Santa Clara counties."

The first team to arrive at the checkout, might have been the most experienced too. Cathy Gordon, a natural platinum blond in a celestial blue puff jacket, has participated all nine years and with her partner, the pepper-haired and giddy Lily Laws, completed their list in 11 minutes. They spent $397.01—close, but not close enough.

"It's a great cause," said Laws, who's participated for five years, and with Gordon–who called this "her Costco"–had developed a shopping strategy. "It's important to help the less fortunate. We feel lucky to be able to do this."

Another team with a strategy, Jennie Lin and Jenfu Lee, appeared slightly disappointed because they spent $401.49. Lin explained that she added things to the cart and rounded up to the nearest dollar, while Lee kept track of how many pennies they might be over.

The first team to spend $400 exactly arrived to the checkout third, about 15 minutes after the start of the contest.

But not everyone cared about winning. They just wanted to shop, have fun and give back, explained Google Senior Vice President of Engineering Alan Eustace.

"What's special about it to me is that everyone participates," he said. "It's a lightweight way to have a big impact on an organization that benefits the Bay Area."

Eustace, who's coordinated the shopping spree every year, recalled that initially the food drive consisted of barrels in the lobby of a building at the Googleplex. But people forgot to bring cans, "though everybody wanted to give," he said.

Then they decided to collect money and have volunteers spend it instead. So at the event's first year on location at Costco, employee groups received $1000 each to shop. Afterward they brought all the food back to the campus. However, their enthusiasm created another problem.

"There was so much food in the lobby that people complained that the fire marshall would be called in," Eustace said amusingly. "We had only a narrow pathway to walk on."

Now, they've streamlined the process. Employees donate cash via Google Checkout–this year employees donated $400,000–and the company matched the contributions 100 percent for a totally of $800,000, according to Eustace. And while the entire amount benefits Second Harvest, they apportion $40,000 for the shopping spree.

"I guess we could just give the entire $800,000 in cash, but this gets people excited," Eustace said. "They feel like they are physically helping somebody in need."

After first time shopping spree participants, Andrew Roland and Suzie Gonzalez, packed their pallet, the smile and determination gave away their thoughts.

"It was fun. It was awesome," they said speaking over each other.

"It's a great way to make a donation."

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