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Freshmen Aubrey Benson and Kassidy Johnston organize cans of tuna for Thanksgiving care packages at the University Center's food pantry, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. Volunteers packed dozens of Albertsons paper bags with non-perishable foods for students who will spend Thanksgiving break on the University's campus.

A group of 11 students and volunteers gathered at the UM’s Food Pantry Saturday, Nov. 9, to put together over 40 Thanksgiving grab bags for students who face food insecurity and don’t know if they will be able to have a Thanksgiving meal.

Many students living on campus aren’t expected to leave for the break, but since food venues on campus will be closed until Sunday that week, the University of Montana Food Pantry is handing out grab bags of food for students who need them.

Freshman Emily Cook came to volunteer because she enjoys giving back. “I think that it’s nice that people will be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner like their classmates,” she said.

Volunteers passed paper Albertson’s bags around the room, assembly-line style, stuffing them with cranberry sauce, stuffing, canned green beans, pasta and snack foods, among other non-perishables. They weighed bags, sorted them and crammed them onto the shelves.

The food pantry’s student coordinator, Kat Cowley, said the pantry needs to get more shelf space. But she was excited to see the shelves they do have filled up.

The money for the grab-bag food came from an Albertson’s foundation grant of $3,000. Cowley says the shelves will probably stay stocked for a while, between Can the Cats food drive (which runs until Nov. 23) and the holiday season, when Cowley said charity is “sexy.”

In addition to the grab bags, ASUM, the Provost’s Office and the University Center are sponsoring a student Thanksgiving meal. Cowley said there will be kids’ activities and movies playing. The dinner is free and will feature turkey, salads, potatoes and gravy. Cowley said UM Campus Dining will also allow people to bring home leftovers, something the dining service almost never permits.

The dinner will be held on Nov. 27 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the UC Ballroom. Students can bring their partners and children, but must RSVP online by Nov. 22. The pantry will also be handing out extra grab bags at the event.

Cowley said her goal is to get students in the door and get them the food they need. Grab bags can be picked up whenever the pantry is open, Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., or whenever the door is open. It’s tucked in a corner of the first floor of the UC, next to ASUM, down the hall with lockers.

“We hope everyone feels comfortable coming in to get food,” Cowley said.