|For more information about volunteer opportunities contact the SLCE office at 491-1682, located in room 176 in the Lory Student Center or the Larimer County Food Bank at 493-4477.|
It began with 26.5 ounces of Hunt's traditional spaghetti sauce. Six thousand pounds and hundreds of cans later, the traditional tranquility of the Oval was transformed to a temporary outdoor pantry ranging in abundance from peanut butter to processed meat in a can.
Cans Around the Oval reached its pinnacle Friday morning when CSU President Larry Penley placed the first can to line the Oval at the edge of the curb, setting in motion the final day of Larimer County's broadest and most profitable food drive. The annual event, created in an effort to fight hunger and increase awareness of it, brought in 117,205 pounds of food – the maximum poundage the event has ever raised.
"This is a great event for the food bank because it serves so many purposes," said Amy Pezzani, executive director of the Larimer County Food Bank. "It brings in a tremendous amount of food for us that we don't get from other sources. It's also an awareness building event …We always like to educate community members about hunger and the reality of it around our county so Cans Around the Oval really helps us meet that goal."
The food drive began as the handiwork of a CSU student needing a solution to a class project. Eighteen years later, Cans Around the Oval is the largest food drive in Northern Colorado, drawing expansive volunteer participation from the university and community.
The event garnered participants in the form of approximately 800 student and community groups and 13 community sponsors.
"This is a great opportunity for us to come together – Colorado State University, Fort Collins and Larimer County – working together on a big issue," Penley said. "It's a time for (CSU) to turn to the community and say that we are a real participant in this community and we value the community and we want to make sure we do good things for this community.
"It's consistent with the concept of CSU as a community and a university of character and that's a focus that we've had for some time."
The food drive, hosted by the office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement (SLCE), ended Friday as volunteers spent the day weighing and organizing cans.
Students from Lincoln Junior High School took on the responsibility of lining the Oval can-by-can, the signature event of the drive. The 90-minute task required approximately 6,000 pounds of food and two busloads of junior high students for completion.
The food is donated to the Larimer County Food Bank, which serves up to 7,000 low-income people each month, according to their Web site. It is sorted into categories and made available to separate agencies throughout Fort Collins and neighboring cities upon request and need. Sorting the food could take around six months, depending on the number of volunteers.
Pezzani said the amount of food the bank anticipates from the drive will double the current stock at the warehouse. It could also mean a four to six week supply for the food bank.
The 117,205 pounds of food is 9,115 pounds more than last year's total – an eight percent increase. The total is 31,691 more pounds than 2003's Cans Around the Oval.
"I was, and am, thrilled about the results," wrote Jen Johnson, the assistant director for SLCE, in an e-mail interview. "It feels good to be able to contribute so much to the Larimer County Food Bank, and it never hurts to break old records."
The inaugural day of Cans Around the Oval was Sept. 21, when the majority of groups involved picked up the countless boxes, barrels and bags necessary for collecting. Throughout the five-week drive, groups and individuals have been door-to-door canvassing, event fundraising and employing the use of inner-group competition in an effort to accumulate and stockpile the greatest poundage of cans.
Of the groups participating in this year's event, Greek Life takes the award for top contributor, amassing more than 32,000 pounds. The College of Business and the Lory Student Center placed second and third, respectively.
While the event is run similar each year, Johnson said it expanded its borders this year to include tours of the food bank and an Oxfam Hunger Banquet, which was held Oct. 11. As part of the competitive and unconventional aspect of the drive, the traditional CANStruction contest took place Oct. 5 on the LSC Plaza.
The Pre-Vet team took first for their can representation of a bone with a bite taken out of it following their team theme, "Take a bite out of hunger." The team received a bonus 600 points added to their total poundage.
"(The other teams) didn't really bring their A-game today," said Zach Freeman, a junior microbiology major and member of the Pre-Vet group, on the day of CANStruction. "It's a big win, but really it's just all about the cans."
Although the food drive is organized to make the collecting process competitive, most involved recognized Cans Around the Oval was about more than beating another group – it was about beating the presence of hunger in the community.
"It's important for students to know that there's something larger than themselves sometimes," said Ashley Withington, a senior landscape architecture major and member of the special events team at SLCE. "It's really easy on a college campus to get lost in this college world of fun and school, and you forget that you're part of a larger community and that they could benefit from your help.
"I hope (students) get caught up in the whirlwind of this event. I hope it's opening a door for them to find other volunteer opportunities, and hopefully, at some point, moving them along the scale from volunteer to active citizen."