“This is what 10,000 pounds of potatoes looks like,” said Kelli Hess, program operations director for the Missoula Food Bank.

The potatoes in question, split into 60-pound sacks stacked on pallets in a warehouse, represent just one-quarter of a 40,000-pound donation the food bank received last Friday – by weight the largest donation in its history, Hess said.

The potatoes come courtesy of Karl Tyler Chevrolet and arrived right in the middle of the Can the Bobcats Food Drive, an annual competition between Missoula and Bozeman in which the cities vie to donate the most to their local food banks in the two weeks preceding the Brawl of the Wild football game.

The Griz-Cat game is this Saturday in Bozeman.

Sandi Tyler, part-owner of the dealership, said they have donated about 20,000 pounds of potatoes during the drive in previous years, but wanted to increase it this year.

Although Can the Bobcats – and its companion competition Can the Griz – is now in its 16th year, Missoula has not won since the first year. Last year, Missoula collected about 121,000 pounds of food overall.

“Bozeman has been beating us by about 30,000 pounds for the last couple of years,” Tyler said. “This year is hard because we don’t have the home game.”

Last year, Tyler got in touch with Fleming Farms in Pablo, letting it know the dealership wanted to double the amount of potatoes it would be giving to the food bank this time around.

On Friday, employees of the food bank and Karl Tyler Chevrolet met at the Missoula Food Bank storage warehouse to unload the first shipment of potatoes. The remaining 30,000 pounds will be delivered to Missoula as needed over the next few months.

Gregg Asciutto, warehouse and purchasing manager for the food bank, said the potatoes won’t last as long as most people think.

“We can go through 20,000 pounds of potatoes in six weeks, even without it being the holidays,” he said.

Hess said about 5,000 pounds of potatoes likely will be given out during the annual Thanksgiving meal turkey distribution, which will be held at the Missoula County Fairgrounds on Monday, Nov. 23, and Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Asciutto said the Ranger Russet potatoes are a good staple to have on hand during the holidays. To go along with the turkeys being distributed next week, the food bank also puts together packages of other common Thanksgiving items like vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin.

He said the food bank is still looking for more onions and carrots for the turkey distribution, with Hess adding that chicken stock is another common holiday meal item that is in short supply.

While the food bank’s current warehouse space near the Wye is across the valley from its main office on South Third Street West, integrated storage space is part of the plan for its new facility on Catlin Street. Asciutto said the change will make the food bank more efficient, cutting out the 40-minute round trip to make deliveries.

Donations that count toward Can the Bobcats can be made up until halftime of the Brawl of the Wild game on Saturday. A list of drop-off locations is available at canthebobcats.com.

In addition to food, every dollar donated during the Can the Bobcats drive counts as 1 pound of food. To donate $5 by text message, send the word NOURISH to 52000.

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