Capital Press

EAGLE, Idaho — The Idaho Potato Commission will take a more personal approach to philanthropy during its Great Big Idaho Potato Truck’s fourth U.S. tour.

IPC donated funding to Meals and Wheels and raised awareness about the nutrition program for senior citizens during its first two tours. The 2014 tour benefited the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign.

Rather than collaborating with a national charity this year, IPC’s Tater Team will identify worthy causes in community’s that play host to the 6-ton replica Russet Burbank on a flat-bed truck.

The tour starts April 15 in Boise, where 4-H clubs will host a food drive for the Idaho Food Bank. IPC will match donations pound for pound and award $500 to the winning club, to be given to the charity of its choice.

IPC President and CEO Frank Muir said the Tater Team is scheduled to travel 22,000 miles and visit 60 cities in 2015. The tour’s budget — about $700,000, including $150,000 for philanthropy — is about the same as last year, Muir said. Savings from cheaper fuel prices may bolster charitable donations, Muir said.

Good deeds may range from stocking community food banks with fresh potatoes to supporting fundraisers for local people in need.

Commissioner Ritchey Toevs, of Aberdeen, believes the Heart Association could have done more to emphasize the potato truck promotion.

“Partnering with local causes I think makes for a lot more personal contact with the communities,” Toevs said.

The theme of the truck’s charitable campaign will be “a big helping,” playing off of the mobile spud’s enormous size.

Muir said the more personal approach to giving will be labor intensive, but is possible due to connections and community knowledge IPC staff have developed from prior treks.

“We’ve been really pleased during the last few years with the media attention we’ve received,” Muir said. “We fully expect to accelerate the media attention because this is very local. Idaho is coming to help each local area in need.”

The public can track the truck, which will be fitted with a global positioning system, on a digital U.S. map.

Those who spot the truck will also be invited to call a toll-free number and leave a message for Caldwell farmer Mark Coombs, whose quest to find the “missing” vehicle has been documented in three nationally televised commercials. IPC will film a new commercial in June.

Muir said IPC is prioritizing parades to maximize exposure and has equipped the truck with special lighting for night parades. Major events on IPC’s tour schedule include the Kentucky Derby, NASCAR’s race in Bristol, Tenn., and the Arlington, Va., Memorial Day parade.

The truck and a red biplane owned by Eastern Idaho grower James Hoff, featured in IPC’s 2014 commercial, will also appear together at a major airshow. Arrangements are still being finalized.

The 2015 tour will feature the potato truck’s first female driver and will be heavy in stops throughout the Northwest, where IPC has agreed to distribute promotional literature for University of Idaho’s potato research program.

IPC has committed to a 2016 tour but will re-evaluate the promotion before deciding if the truck will continue to roll thereafter.

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