Country juggernaut Big Machine Label Group may have signed a groundbreaking performance royalty pact with Clear Channel, but the music company struck a different kind of partnership with General Mills that has even greater potential for doing good.

This spring, nearly a dozen Big Machine acts including Rascal Flatts, the Band Perry and Martina McBride teamed up with the food company to launch a community-based fund-raising drive for the charity Feeding America to Outnumber Hunger. Under the program's guidelines, General Mills is donating five meals (or 65 cents) to local food banks for each special code redeemed from 10 packaged goods brands like Betty Crocker, Cheerios, Totino's and Green Giant. Since March, more than 6 million meals have been redeemed, with General Mills committing $2 million-plus to Feeding America by March 2013.

The program's early success has prompted the food giant to sponsor an Outnumber Hunger Live bus as part of Big Machine's summer tour featuring Rascal Flatts, Eli Young Band and Edens Edge. The 30-city tour kicked off in Nashville at the recent Country Music Assn. Music Festival, and the anti-­hunger program will be featured on local radio promotions and meet-and-greets by the artists.

The deal began last summer, with General Mills sponsoring McBride's 11-city Eleven Across America tour at the same time as Big Machine artists started getting involved with various Outnumber Hunger programs.

"Radio [became] involved because it's such a local theme, the way you can literally send meals to your local food bank," Big Machine president/CEO Scott Borchetta says. Direct artist involvement from Rascal Flatts and other artists helped the program scale. "Any one of these acts would have done great spreading the word, but 11 acts with engaged fan bases - and eight of them featured directly on our packaging - has been a really big benefit for us," General Mills Outnumber Hunger director Cheryl Welch says.

Formerly known as Second Harvest, Feeding America describes itself as the country's biggest domestic hunger-relief charity, supplying food to more than 37 million Americans each year, including 3 million seniors and 14 million kids. Its 200-plus food banks work with 61,000 agencies to combat hunger in all forms, and has been involved with numerous music-related initiatives, including a live Guns N' Roses concert streamed earlier this year.

Reaching younger music fans has become a growing priority for a more established organization, WhyHunger, founded in 1975 by talk-radio host Bill Ayres and singer Harry Chapin, and later garnering support from Bruce Springsteen, Crosby Stills & Nash, Carlos Santana and Chicago. In recent years, however, WhyHunger has been working with newer acts Tom Morello, Papa Roach and indie-pop singer Bleu to diversify from its classic-rock core.

"We try to maintain our relationships with seasoned artists, but we're always looking to expand our horizons," Ayres says.

During the past two decades, WhyHunger has raised more than $10 million for community-based initiatives through Artists Against Hunger & Poverty. The program encompasses concerts (Springsteen's benefit at the Apollo in March, in partnership with SiriusXM), as well as digital downloads (indie rock act Trampled by Turtles delivered all proceeds from its cover of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?") and public service announcements (radio spots by Morello, online campaigns featuring Papa Roach).

The organization recently hosted its annual Chapin Awards Dinner in New York, honoring Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love and Peter Noone for their humanitarian achievements. In November, WhyHunger will host its latest Hungerthon in New York the weekend before Thanksgiving. "We had our best year ever," Ayres says of the 2011 event, which raised more than $800,000 in two days.••••