Every Can Helps Every Can Helps

Every Can Helps

It seems that now more than ever, hunger is a common problem that knows no boundary. Hunger plagues every city and community around the world– nearly 17.2 million households in the US alone are food insecure.  In this current climate of budget cuts and tightening belts, it is becoming more evident that the line between having enough to eat and going to bed hungry is very narrow for too many families.

One event that has been fighting hunger since 1992 is a unique competition that combines creativity, teamwork and construction challenges all while collecting donations of food items. Canstruction, a global non-profit competition, strives to provide hunger relief assistance by collecting canned food for distribution to local food banks while promoting the design/build industry.  The events are held annually in over 150 cities around the world, and millions of pounds of food have been donated to local food banks.

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You may be surprised to learn that for 10 years, one of the events has been held in Charleston, coordinated by both West Virginia’s AIA Chapter and the Covenant House Food Pantry. For the fourth time, local firm Pickering Associates has accepted the challenge and participated in Canstruction with its own sculpture.  And by sculpture, I mean a colossal model that uses a 10 foot square space and stands 8 feet tall.

The Canstruction sculptures are designed and built by architects, engineers, designers, and contractors—so you can imagine that much planning is involved. Some teams, including the Pickering Associates team, begin the process months in advance. There are rules and regulations that guide the design and building of the structure, including the use of food items that are needed by the pantries.  Beyond the criteria, though, the teams have a lot of freedom when it comes to the designs.  Some are inspired by super heroes, others use a patriotic theme, and still others reference classic cartoon characters.  The design has to reference the fight against hunger, so past sculptures have included everything from bowling pins (Striking Out Hunger) to the Avengers (Avenging World Hunger.)

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Last weekend, Pickering brought their design to reality when they built a sculpture that portrayed both an astronaut and the space shuttle. It was inspired by Astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s words- “if we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger”.  Their sculpture used over 3,800 cans of food, purchased with over $4,500 in donations.  All the cans used in the competition are donated to the Covenant House Food Pantry in Charleston, but any additional funds donated are split between the pantries in Marietta, Parkersburg and Williamstown.

When designing their sculpture the teams consider both the label and nutrition value, and most use computer modeling software to determine just how many cans the design will need. They may use templates to help speed up their building process while other teams prefer to “wing it” on the big day.  The Pickering team uses templates and was the first team done, thanks to the help of local high school volunteers.

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Build Day is an amazing day of energy and camaraderie, everyone in competitive mode but working toward a common goal. The cans are delivered the night before, the pallets waiting at each team’s construction space. Some teams wear matching shirts or dress related to their theme; some outlandish and others more conservative. People who usually spend their days behind a desk can be seen climbing ladders or kneeling on the floor. The teams have 8 hours to complete their sculpture and some will race to finish in half the time while others take their time and use the full day.  At the end of the 8 hours, the Clay Center has been transformed into a gallery of giant works using the same medium to convey the same message: Let’s help end hunger.  The teams are tired, proud and happy they had the chance to make a visible dent in a very real need.

The impressive sculptures will remain on public view until they are dismantled and distributed to the food pantry. At the post-Canstruction gala, prizes are awarded for Structural Integrity, Best Use of Labels, Best Meal and Juror’s Choice).  The winners of those categories are invited to move forward and compete internationally.  Pickering Associates took home three awards at last week’s event but even more importantly they were able to raise awareness and make a sizeable contribution in the fight against hunger.

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Since it began, Canstruction has provided over 20 million pounds of food to food banks. In West Virginia alone, over 140,000 cans were collected for the Covenant House Food Pantry, which served over 12,000 people in need. Unfortunately, the need for food assistance continues to be a daily reality for many families.  Donations are gratefully accepted year round, and you can find more information on the Canstruction website. In a perfect future, every citizen of Earth would have enough to eat and food pantries would be obsolete.  But until then, events like Canstruction will continue the battle in the fight against hunger.


Laura Pytlik is an Ohio native who moved to Marietta in 2000. Owner of Wit & Whimzy on Front Street, Laura enjoys being part of the downtown community, watching the wildlife in her backyard, and most movies starring Steve Carell.