OZARK, Mo. – The Nixa vs. Ozark Backyard Brawl already has high stakes on the football field. But the two teams are also competing off the field by raising money and donating canned food to Least of These Food Pantry in Christian County.

“It’s for Can the Tigers/Can the Eagles event,” Director Kristy Carter said. “It is our largest food drive that we do every year.”

The Can the Tigers/Can the Eagles event has been going on for the last 15 years.

“It was started by the cheerleading teams for both towns,” Carter said. “They picked a friendly little rivalry at the time. It was a chance for them to compete off the field while the football players were competing on the field. So it’s just kind of grown.”

Students at Nixa and Ozark have spent the week donating food and money leading up to Friday night’s game. On Thursday, Least of These picked up all the donations from Nixa. The pantry will pick up the donations from Ozark Friday. This years event is crucial, as the need for food in Christian County is growing.

“Last year at this time, we were serving about 900 families,” Carter said. “Right now we’re serving about 1300 families, and we anticipate that number to rise between to about 1500 families by Thanksgiving and Christmas time. What we’re seeing right now is dual income families who just can’t make ends meet due to the inflation costs, the cost of food going up, the cost of gas, rent and utilities, all of those things are compounding food insecurity.”

Families have until halftime of the game Friday to donate food and money. After that, Least of These will announce the winner.

“The overall winner, though, are the families that get the food,” Carter said. “The foods that we receive, we’re able to take and make recipes so families can stretch the food that they receive from us and make it hopefully last more than just one meal.”

Least of These has already spent $150,000 more on food this year than other years. The pantry is grateful for the support of Nixa and Ozark.