The University of Alabama collected more than half a million pounds of food during its annual Beat Auburn Beat Hunger campaign to benefit the West Alabama Food Bank.

The UA group celebrated Friday morning at the Northport food bank when they learned the Capstone collected 565,983 pounds of food this year, beating Auburn University's group collecting 516,611 pounds.

The annual competition, which is in its 29th year, began September 17 and ran through November 17. Each team collected food and money in a friendly competition to benefit the WAFB and the Food Bank of East Alabama to help fight food insecurity in both communities.

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Jean Rykaczewski, CEO of the West Alabama Food Bank, said the success of this year's competition was due to an increase in participation from various groups throughout the community.

"We were kind of worried because of the economy and not knowing what was going to happen, but everyone really stepped up and we saw more participation from different groups that really helped us out this year," Rykaczewski said.

Rykaczewski said the process of tallying the numbers over the seven-week program left the group on edge, but they were excited to win this year's competition after falling short in the 2021 campaign.

"We watched the numbers for seven weeks of coming in and out," Rykaczewski said. "It's nerve-wracking but when we got the call that they had 500,000 pounds too, when we normally were in the 300s and 400s, it was like 'oh my goodness but we're really excited at how this happened."

Kate Graziano, president of UA's BABH team said it felt amazing to have led the team that helped raise food this year.

"This is the most that both institutions have ever raised and collectively, we were able to raise over 1,000,000 pounds of food for the state of Alabama," Graziano said. "It's truly mind-blowing but this is my favorite part, watching everything come together in the end. All of the hard work, all of the blood, sweat and tears, the coming and dropping off food at the food bank, it all paid off."

Graziano said the food collected will allow the local food bank to assist families throughout the holiday season and beyond.

"It was a lot of time and a lot of commitment, but it was so worth it, knowing that throughout the holiday season and all the way up until next spring, the food bank is going to be able to benefit off of what we raised over these past seven weeks," Graziano said.

Graziano, a junior at the University who has been involved with BABH since her freshman year, said she is happy to be a part of a group that is making a large impact on the local community.

"It is truly amazing to know the smallest things ripple into a huge impact," Graziano said. "It doesn't matter if you go volunteer for two hours at the food bank or you're orchestrating a large food drive like this, knowing you're making such a big contribution to the community has added so much meaning and purpose in my life and is something that is rewarding that everyone should experience."

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