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The annual Mr. Whitman fundraising pageant is the one place on campus where senior men can embarrass themselves for a good cause—this year, Blue Mountain Action Council's weekend backpack program, which provides hundreds of bags of food to Walla Walla elementary schoolchildren eligible for free and reduced lunches.

"Access to food means healthier kids, smarter kids and happy kids," said contestant, Tau Kappa Epsilon member and theatre major Dan Lovato '18. "It is not only my desire but also my obligation to make a difference in a community that has given me so much," he added. "It is the absolute least I could do to make a palpable difference for the most important members of our community: kids."

Packages slipped into children's backpacks during recess include two breakfasts, two lunches and two snacks per child. Blue Mountain Action Council distributes the Backpack Bridge bags weekly to 140 students at seven elementary schools. The goal is to provide Friday backpacks to 492 students at all 12 sites. The funds raised from Mr. Whitman will help Blue Mountain Action Council reach that goal.

These figures hit home with contestant Ricardo Vivanco '18. He received discounted lunches until high school, the economics-mathematics major said, and without them, Vivanco continued, his parents would have struggled to feed his sisters and him.

The 16th annual Mr. Whitman pageant, hosted by Whitman sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma, takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday in Cordiner Hall. Each year, Mr. Whitman raises funds for a different philanthropy. Last year, the event garnered a record $50,000-plus for a new mental health professional position at The Health Center at Lincoln High School, Walla Walla's only alternative high school. Mr. Whitman has brought in some $250,000 for charitable causes since its creation in 2002.

Sixteen applicants from the community applied to be the beneficiary this year, the most ever, according to Kappa Kappa Gamma's 2017 Philanthropy Chair and interdisciplinary major Mikaela Slade '19. Six senior men vie for the title of Mr. Whitman: one from each fraternity and two who are not Greek-affiliated. Since the end of September, contestants have been campaigning for the crown through bake sales, offering their faces for peers to throw pies at for donations and competing in a trivia night, among other activities, which are aided by a different member of Kappa Kappa Gamma and others. The campaign culminates in the Mr. Whitman pageant. Emceed by two Kappa Kappa Gamma members, it consists of a group dance, Q&A and a talent and poetry contest. President Kathy Murray and Jeff Mathias, food bank director for Blue Mountain Action Council, will be guest judges.  

While the title of Mr. Whitman goes to the contestant who raises the most money, new awards have been added this year, said committee member and psychology major Mariah Ng '19: best talent and committee's choice (for passion and enthusiasm).  

The backpack program struck such a chord with contestants that they're willing to step out of their comfort zones. For instance, biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology major Ethan Gladhill '19 of Sigma Chi shaved half of his head and beard for donations.