Omaha bar’s ‘Jell-O Shot Challenge’ raises money for food banks across the country

June 13, 2024, 5:30 p.m. ·

Rocco's Pizza and Cantina owner with employees
Rocco's Pizza and Cantina owner Kevin Culjat, center, with employee Abby Evers, left, and sister-in-law Leanne Maerz, right. (Photo by Brian Beach/Nebraska Public Media News)

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The first pitch of this year’s College World Series will be thrown in Omaha Friday, but across the street from Charles Schwab Stadium another annual competition to raise money for food banks across the country is already underway.

Rocco’s Pizza and Cantina was buzzing Thursday afternoon on the first day of the annual College World Series Jell-O shot challenge.

Fans from across the country can buy $5 Jell-O shots in their favorite school’s color and for each shot purchased, $1 is donated to a food bank in the university’s hometown, while 50 cents goes to an Omaha food bank.

Rocco’s Pizza and Cantina owner Kevin Culjat said the competition began around five years ago when a bartender mixed up different colored shots corresponding with the teams in the College World Series.

Culjat suggested the bartender save time by making Jell-O shots instead.

The first year, Culjat said Rocco’s didn’t plan on keeping an official count of how many shots each fan base bought, but some bartenders were keeping tallies on their own.

Arkansas won the first competition with an estimated 860 shots, and the Jell-O shot challenge has expanded ever since.

Last year, LSU fans bought more than 68,000 shots to win the competition, blowing out the previous record of 18,000 from Ole Miss fans in 2022.

2024 CWS Jello Shot Challenge Standings Board
The Rocco's Jello Shot Challenge board is updated each day with the number of shots purchased for each school. (Photo by Brian Beach/Nebraska Public Media News)

As the challenge grew, Culjat wanted to find a way to give to the communities of the winning fanbases.

“If this is going to get big, I didn't do this to make money,” he said. “I want to sell pizza and beer to make money. If I'm going to do this, I want to look to where I can give back.”

Culjat said he researched food banks in university towns and found that at one Mississippi food bank during the COVID-19 pandemic, 46% of the people who used the service were employed by the local university.

“That's when it kind of hit home, you know, you forget that when schools closed, kids went home, and they ate, but all these people who were employed by the school, they'd had a tough couple years,” he said.

Last year, Rocco’s Pizza and Cantina wrote more than $148,000 in checks to food banks across the country.

This year, Rocco’s has a brand-new room dedicated to Jell-O shots, which Culjat will create a more relaxed atmosphere and have additional space to prepare shots.

“I would like to do 100,000 in shots, and ideally, each school would have 12,000,” he said. “Then I could write eight, five-figure checks, kick in another 50,000 locally to charity, and that that'd be a nice little bow on the end of the College World Series.”

The competition will continue throughout the course of the College World Series and updates will be posted each night.