Cans sit in a Missoula Food Bank bin in the UC Game Room that were donated as part of Can the Cats. The food drive will run through Nov. 20, 2020. "Considering COVID has slowed down business a lot, there have been a considerable amount of donations," said Forrest Bauer, UC Game Room employee.

Can the Cats Food Drive, which started Nov. 6, is looking a little different this year due to the coronavirus. The University of Montana Esports team is stepping up to the plate to continue the 21-year-long tradition.

Every year the University of Montana and Montana State University go head-to-head in a friendly competition to see which school can raise the most food and money during a two week period. Generally, this food drive is run by the football team and takes place during the infamous yearly Griz versus Cat football game. However, there is no football this fall, which left Can the Cats hungry for a new sponsor.

The UM Esports team took the lead this fall to run the food drive after being approached by the Missoula Food Bank & Community Center, which is the food drive’s other sponsor. Cale Patenaude, the Esports Head Coach, said they were excited to take the opportunity.

“Food deprivation is such a huge thing,” Patenaude said. “No one should have to think about if they can put food on the table. [We] just want to give back.”

However, with the lack of physical contact due to COVID-19, the team has had to become more creative about raising awareness for the drive. Can the Cats usually relies heavily on gathering donations during the Griz-Cat football game and playing off of the excitement the game brings. This year the drive is relying on social media. The Esports team is also doing several live stream events where they will link to the Can the Cats food drive website.

There are also over 40 local businesses helping to raise awareness for the food drive by providing drop off locations for food as well as hanging posters, according to Food Bank Events and Marketing Coordinator Amanda Ceaser. She has been helping to run this food drive since the start of her job in 2017, which she pointed out was the last time UM beat MSU.

At the end of the Can the Cats food drive on Nov. 20, the Food Bank and UM Food Pantry, which helps with the collecting of food donated on the UM campus, will add up the total weight of the food donated. Each pound of food represents one dollar. This final amount is added to actual money donated to the drive, which gives them the final number.

Last year UM collected over $420,000 worth of money and food, which was the school’s record. MSU, however, got over $435,000 and won the competition last year. Ceaser hopes this year UM can raise even more.

Once the food is accounted for, the food collected in the community will be redistributed through the Missoula Food Bank and the food collected on campus will be redistributed by the UM Food Pantry to people in need. Ceaser said this year it is vital that they raise a lot of food. Since the pandemic, the food bank has started to serve one in four people in the community, and the Can the Cats food drive would help enormously with that effort.

Patenaude said there are drop off sites all over Missoula and the UM campus. There is a map of drop off sites located on the University of Montana’s Instagram.