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Olive Garden Announces Pasta Tales Essay Contest Winners

Thirteen Students Recognized for Sharing Ideas on How to End Hunger in their Communities

ORLANDO, Fla . – (Oct. 4, 2013) Ninth-grader and Waukegan, Ill. resident, Chris Cocom was awarded the grand prize in Olive Garden's 17th-annual Pasta Tales essay writing contest. This year students were asked "How would you help end hunger in your community?" Cocom's essay about a food truck was chosen from nearly 8,000 entries written by students across North America in first through 12th grade.

In his essay, Cocom, a student at Waukegan High School - Brookside campus, shares his own personal experience in his essay. He wrote: "When the recession hit the United States many families lost their jobs ... Small businesses lost costumers and had to close down ... savings accounts started to go on empty and foreclosure signs appear[ed] on homes at an alarming rate. Even my own family had to sell our beautiful home...My idea to stop hunger in my community would be to get a truck full of supplies and warm food to deliver door to door where it was urgent ... The truck I envision, would be colorful and equipped with a stove so that volunteers and I could cook for the needy people in my community on the spot ... I could also bring along boxes and boxes full of toiletries, canned goods, cereals and warm blankets."

This year's Pasta Tales essay question reflects a long-term commitment to ending hunger by Olive Garden and its parent company Darden Restaurants. Olive Garden restaurants participate in the Darden Harvest program, which during the past nine years has donated more than 67 million pounds of food to local community food banks across the country, more than 26 million pounds of it from Olive Garden alone. At the end of each day, every Darden restaurant freezes and safely stores surplus food items like fresh fish and other meats that can be used in soups, stews or on a plate with other donated items, for local food banks to pick up and deliver to those in need.

All essays were reviewed by the Quill and Scroll Society of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Iowa and judged based on creativity, adherence to theme, organization, grammar, punctuation and spelling. According to one of the judges, Cocom's idea was "innovative" and "cutting edge."

As the Pasta Tales grand-prize winner, Cocom receives a trip to New York City with his family that includes dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square and a $2,500 savings bond. In addition, Olive Garden will provide a $5,000 grant to support Cocom's idea.

Olive Garden also awarded winners in 12 grade categories. Each of the grade winners receives a $500 savings bond and a family dinner at their local Olive Garden restaurant:

Grade 1:   Kali Singh, Minnesota
Grade 2:   Emily Davidson, Nova Scotia, Canada
Grade 3:   Ben Donahue-Pendergrass, California
Grade 4:   Diya Kar, California
Grade 5:   Derzan Chiang, Ohio
Grade 6:   Caleigh Morris, West Virginia
Grade 7:   Hayley Smith, Texas
Grade 8:   Haley Maguire, Arizona
Grade 9:   Natalie Marcantonio, Arizona
Grade 10:   Emily Battles, Georgia
Grade 11:   Adam Judge, Nebraska
Grade 12:   Lucy Brandenburg, Wisconsin

Olive Garden is the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment with more than 800 restaurants, more than 96,000 employees and more than $3.6 billion in annual sales. Olive Garden is a member of the Darden family of restaurants (NYSE: DRI), the world's largest full-service restaurant operating company. In 2012, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list), the world's largest full-service restaurant operating company. For more information, visit Olive Garden's website at .

Tara Gray
Olive Garden Media & Communications
(407) 245-5642

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