The annual Can the Cats canned food drive is kicking off Saturday in the lead up to the Griz-Cat football game on Nov. 23.
This is the 20th year of the two-week drive to see who can raise the most food and funds leading up to the Brawl of the Wild, when Montana’s two flagship universities and the communities of Missoula and Bozeman compete on and off the field.
“This is the single largest food drive we do all year, and the food that we raise through this drive really helps us last all the way through the spring,” said Amanda Ceaser, the Missoula Food Bank events and marketing coordinator.
Missoulians are encouraged to donate food or money, host a drive, spread the word and volunteer. A full list of donation drop spots and a calendar of events is available online at canthecats.com.
In 2018, the Missoula community raised 404,897 pounds of food, and this year, they are raising the goal to 406,000 pounds of food. The drive runs from Nov. 9 to 23.
All Missoula donations will stay local and help stock the shelves of the Missoula Food Bank & Community Center and the University of Montana Food Pantry, which opened in February on the first floor of the University Center.
“This is the first time the food pantry has existed during Can the Cats, so we’re working with volunteers to collect food at all the entrances for games,” said Kat Cowley, UM Food Pantry student coordinator.
Donations of five cans earn free entry at the UM Adams Center Games on Nov. 14, 18 and 19.
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Non-perishable food and monetary donations made to the UM Food Pantry or during home Griz football games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium will go to the UM Food Pantry. All other donations made to drop spots throughout the community and on the UM campus, or at a number of events will go to the Missoula Food Bank. Monetary donations can also be made online, by check or in cash.
“After the giving season ends, food drives die down, and we rely on this drive to keep variety at the Food Bank and healthy foods on tables in our community,” Ceaser said.
Last year, the Missoula Food Bank served one in five people in Missoula County and over 26,000 individuals. That number is already up to more than 25,000 people this year, with the busy season approaching.
More families are in need around the holidays, and with Thanksgiving around the corner, Ceaser said they are especially looking for canned green beans and vegetables and soup. However, Ceaser said high-protein foods like canned tuna and chicken or peanut butter are needed year-round.
“Having that protein in the store is so important and it’s the most expensive thing that we like to keep on the shelves, but we need it to meet nutritional needs,” she said.
The UM Food Pantry is also in need of protein-rich foods as well as canned fruit, according to Cowley.
Cowley said the campus pantry is open to all students and has served 149 students since it opened.
“Can the Cats is my favorite event each year because there is such an outpouring of love, and I love seeing how generous Missoula can be,” Cowley said.