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University of the Cumberlands and Union College are partnering with Kentucky Harvest Southeast again this holiday season to raise food for local foodbanks.

Each year, the colleges see who can donate the most food to local pantries before the holidays, which are typically the months with heaviest need for foodbanks. This year, the competition begins October 15 and finishes November 15.

The contest, called The Pursuit of the Golden Can, initially began as a food drive on Union’s campus. The college’s departmental buildings competed against each other to see who could raise the most food, and whichever building won earned an upcycled coffee can spray-painted gold and filled with candies wrapped in golden foil.

“The original purpose was just to have a food drive to help out local foodbanks so families could have what they needed during the holidays,” said Gabrielle Mellendorf, who created the Pursuit of the Golden Can while she was an employee at Union. “We wanted to show that we as a college pursue the fights that are worth winning. That we have the spirit to overcome hunger.”

The food drive was a success. Kentucky Harvest Southeast heard of it and contacted a number of colleges, encouraging them to participate the next year, suggesting that the food drive involve a friendly competition among the schools to boost participation. University of the Cumberlands rose to the challenge, and since 2011, Cumberlands and Union donated tens of thousands of pounds of food to local foodbanks, to provide meals for families and to win the Golden Can. In the past two years alone, Cumberlands collected more than 47,000 pounds of food, all of which were distributed to families in need.

“We are very appreciative of the donations from Cumberlands,” said Norma Dunston, who runs the food pantry at First Baptist Church (FBC) in Williamsburg, Kentucky. “Last time, they stocked up our pantry for a full year, which is great. We’re only now running out of things.”

The FBC food pantry services anywhere from 50 to 100 families each month and is one of several foodbanks to which Cumberlands makes donations. In 2017, the school gave so much food to FBC that the pantry was able to share the donations with Mount Pisgah Baptist Church that has no other foodbanks nearby.

Countless families have been fed because of donations given for The Pursuit of the Golden Can, and that is a blessing both colleges are pleased to continue giving; however, this year, Cumberlands is revising how they campaign the food drive to their students, faculty and staff.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the competitive spirit of things, and if more food is donated because of that, that’s great,” said Dr. Emily Coleman, Vice President for Student Services at Cumberlands. “But we feel like the focus at Cumberlands has shifted a lot toward the contest. It’s gotten away from the people we’re serving. We want to focus on the needs that people in the area have and how we can help meet those needs.”

So this year, Cumberlands is rebranding their campaign to “Plates for a Purpose.” The name stems from the plate-shaped diagram the USDA has created to portray what a healthy diet should include. (Visit for more information.) It also reflects the original purpose of the food drive: to provide high-quality meals for families.

To accommodate this shift in focus, Cumberlands has reset their model for calculating the donations they collect, tallying it in terms of how many metaphorical plates the donations make. For example, a “single plate” of food consists of one fruit or veggie item, one grain item, one dairy item and one protein item. So, say one can of peaches, a box of rice, a cup of mac-and-cheese and a can of chicken is donated. When those items are added together, they create a single plate of food – one complete meal for someone – according to Cumberlands’ new system.

Cumberlands will still track the pounds of food the school raises and report that statistic to Kentucky Harvest Southeast for the Pursuit of the Golden Can. But when reporting to the Cumberlands campus, in order to keep the school focused on providing quality meals to local families, the school will report the number of the plates made possible by Cumberlands’ donations.

“I am so looking forward to this year,” said Dunston. “It’s thrilling to have students so excited to do this.”

She smiled and added, “Students are welcome to come to the pantry any time. We always have jobs for them!”

Plates for a Purpose begins October 15 and ends November 15. Anyone who wishes to contribute to the food drive may drop off donations at the Boswell Campus Center on Cumberlands’ campus and may contact the Office of Student Services at 606.539.4230 if they need more information.

According to Dunston, foods that are always in high-demand include protein options like canned tuna or chicken, peanut butter and canned beans. She says that easy-to-make meal options such as Spaghetti-O’s, stews and soups are also especially appreciated.

Located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, University of the Cumberlands is an institution of regional distinction offering quality undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and online degree programs. Learn more at