The annual Cans for Kids food drive kicked off Tuesday with an Odessa Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting at Reagan Magnet Elementary School, last year’s winning campus.

A small group of fifth-graders gathered in the school gym for the event, which gives students a chance to be entered into a drawing to win prizes like a bicycle or a tablet. The competition is districtwide. The drive runs from Tuesday through April 27.

The food that is collected goes to the West Texas Food Bank.

School Nutrition Computer Tech Linda Robertson said winners are determined by how many pounds of food are brought in per student.

“They bring in three cans, or $2 and they get their name in a drawing one time. Some kids bring cases and cases,” Robertson said.

West Texas Food Bank Communications Director Craig Stoker said 31,148 pounds were brought in last year.

Robertson said they always try to take in at least one more pound than they did the previous year.

About five years ago, 60,000 pounds of food was collected, but Robertson said that’s been hard to beat. The response was prompted by a challenge from the administration building because the school nutrition director was retiring “so they all went crazy,” she said.

Up until last year, Robertson said Austin Montessori Magnet had won the competition for three years. The principal at Cavazos Elementary, who had previously been at Reagan, was trying to start some trash talking Tuesday by saying they were already ahead.

But seriously, Roberson said what keeps her going with the project is the need for food and keeping the food bank supplied during the summer.

Reagan fifth-graders Edson Padilla and Riley Schenkel said it makes them feel good to be able to help their peers. Padilla, 10, and Schenkel, 11, said they are planning for another victory this year.

“I’m just going to bring tons of cans and make sure we can win,” Padilla said.

The prize drawing is May 2, Director of School Nutrition Katy Taylor said.

Robertson, who has been organizing the food drive for 14 years, said the effort is worth it.

“You can ask Katy. Every time I get up there at the awards ceremony I have tears coming down my face because I’m just so happy we did what we did. These are our kids we’re talking about. We have a lot of kids in our district that don’t get meals at home. It makes me feel great,” Robertson said.