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Organizers of the annual Can the Griz food drive said donations were slow to come in this year, presumably because of the coronavirus. But they remained hopeful they would see a big push on the last day.

The competition to see whether Montana State University or the University of Montana can donate more food ended Friday.

The annual tradition, in its 21st year, asks people, on behalf of their respective university, to donate money and canned goods to benefit local food banks.

Last year, food and money donations made in support of the Bobcats totaled 437,265 pounds, while donations made for the University of Montana Grizzlies in Missoula totaled 421,859 pounds. Results from this year’s drive were expected to be announced Friday night, after the Chronicle’s deadline.

Jill Holder, food and nutrition director for Human Resource Development Council, which runs the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, said she knew that the food drive would look different this year because of the virus. She said traffic at grocery stores, where people typically donate, was quieter than normal and, as of Friday morning, donations were lower than previous years.

“People are, I think, adhering to some of the precautions and not going out as much,” Holder said.

However, she said, the last day of the food drive is typically when people make large donations that help bolster the number of pounds brought in.

On the last day of the food drive last year, 94,000 pounds were brought in. There were 92,000 pounds donated on the last day the year before that. And, the year before that, 87,000 pounds of food was donated on the final day of the food drive.

“Our community is super generous, and many of them wait until the last minute,” Holder said.

She said the food bank is able to keep up with demand with grocery store partnerships. Holder said grocery stores donate surplus food or food that they can’t sell anymore. The food bank then sorts out what it can donate to people and the rest goes to animals or compost.

“We waste nothing,” Holder said.

But, Holder said, Can the Griz typically brings in up to one-third of the food bank’s budget to help buy food for people who need it.

When the pandemic hit, she said, the food bank tapped 55 pallets of canned goods it got from the previous year’s competition to distribute.

“That’s the importance of things like Can the Griz — it’s part of our emergency food plan,” Holder said.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.

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