Saturday is the kickoff for the 20th annual Can the Griz food drive competition, and Bobcat fans are gearing up to try to beat the Grizzlies again while having fun and feeding the hungry.

Fans of Montana’s two rival university football teams have held the friendly contest for two decades to see who can collect the most nonperishable food and money for their local food banks.

“We’re really excited,” Heidi Worley, community engagement manager for Montana State University’s Office of Student Engagement, said Friday. “I believe in our community to come together. Every donation matters. We need everybody’s help.”

MSU and Bozeman have beat the University of Montana and Missoula in 16 out of 19 years.

The contest takes place in the two weeks leading up to the traditional Brawl of the Wild football game. The food drive starts Saturday, Nov. 9, and the deadline for donations is 11 a.m. Nov. 23, at the end of the first quarter of Saturday’s big game.

The first special event takes place today at Belgrade High School. Ceramics and cooking students are teaming up to sell hand-thrown bowls filled with soup or chili for $10, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Last year Bobcat fans collected a record 263,263 pounds of food plus $185,457 in cash for the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. Each dollar is counted as a pound of food, for a total equivalent of 448,720 pounds.

In last year’s Can the Cats campaign, Grizzly fans collected a total of 404,897 in pounds and dollars for the Missoula Food Bank, which serves one in five people in Missoula County.

“Every year we beat the previous year’s collection record, and I’m confident in our community’s ability to work together for this effort,” Worley said.

“It’s a pretty important food drive for us, plus it’s a lot of fun,” said Lyra Leigh-Nedbor, child nutrition programs coordinator at the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. “Sadly we have not solved hunger in our community.”

The fall food drive is “essential to our food supply,” Leigh-Nedbor said. In addition to bringing in thousands of pounds of food, it also put a wider variety of food on the shelves.

Money donations count toward the total if made on the food bank’s website (https://gallatinvalleyfoodbank.org/#donate).

In the past year the Gallatin Valley Food Bank gave out 14,962 food boxes, the second highest ever, according to Jill Holder, food and nutrition director. The food bank also serves 348 seniors a month and distributes 12,441 weekend backpacks of food to school kids.

Last year schools in Bozeman, Belgrade and Four Corners collected close to 34,000 pounds of food for Can the Griz.

The food bank’s wish list includes soup, peanut butter, canned fruit, canned pumpkin, canned vegetables, canned tomatoes, canned tuna or chicken, canned yams and cranberries, cereal, frozen turkeys — and diapers of all sizes.

“Can the Griz is just a real fun time to be at the food bank. It opens your eyes to how much the community supports the food bank and our neighbors,” Leigh-Nedbor said.

On Friday, Nov. 15, the XL Country radio station will host a 12-hour food drive from the Town & Country Foods on Bozeman’s North 19th Avenue from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Radio stations KISS and 103.5 will sponsor drives that day at the Town & Country markets on South 11th Avenue and in Belgrade.

And on Saturday, Nov. 16, the fourth annual Cranksgiving fun bike ride and food drive will begin at 1 p.m. Bicyclists are urged to bring $20 for the Food Bank. Costumes are encouraged. (For details see https://drewtyger.wixsite.com/cranksgivingbozeman.)

This year Missoula is planning a 12-hour drive like Bozeman’s, so Worley said the Bobcats are hoping to double the 30,000 pounds collected last year by that event.

Fundraising “pint nights” will be held at Map Brewing, Outlaw Brewing, Mountains Walking and Bozone and local eateries. For details see www.canthegriz.com/events.html

Canned food can also be donated at the MSU men’s basketball game Nov. 9, the MSU women’s basketball game Nov. 11, or volleyball games Nov. 14 and 16, to receive admission for just $5.

Canned food and other nonperishable food donations can be taken to collection points throughout Bozeman.

There are seven collection sites on the MSU campus: the president’s office in Montana Hall, Office of Student Engagement (SUB), Jake Jabs College of Business map room, Fitness Center front desk, MSU Alumni Foundation, Renne Library front desk and Nopper building main lobby. All donations to those locations must be delivered by noon on Nov. 22 so they can be delivered to the food bank and counted.

More than 60 off-campus locations are listed online (www.canthegriz.com/collection-sites.html). They include the Belgrade Chamber of Commerce, Bozeman Public Library, Bozeman Swim Center, Gallatin Valley Mall, Gallatin Valley YMCA, Heck/Quaw Elementary School, Meadowlark Elementary School, Owenhouse Ace Hardware, Stadium View Apartments and Zoot Enterprises.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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