By Ron Leir
As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s commitment to end poverty and hunger in America with his Great Society program, a group of Harrison public school kids want to do their part to ease the burden for struggling West Hudson families.
More than 40 youngsters from Washington Middle School will be participating in the international Canstruction program.
Twenty-one eighth-graders from the STEM (Science/ Technology/Engineering/ Math) Academy, along with 25 students from grades 6, 7 and 8 from the Family Friendly after-school program are volunteering for the charity but are reinforcing educational skills while they do it.
District Curriculum Director Cynthia Baumgartner, who is managing the project, introduced the concept to the Kearny school system while serving as Kearny High principal.
“We’re going to hold a kickoff ceremony on Feb. 6 at the middle school and we’re going to invite the community to introduce them to it,” Baumgartner said.
How it works is that students solicit and collect hundreds of cans of food from local businesses and organizations, design and “construct” huge structures made up of the full cans collected, display their final product to the public, and, finally, disassemble their invention and give away the cans to community agencies or nonprofits that operate food banks or pantries.
Cans from the Harrison project will be donated to the food bank at Holy Cross Church, the Kearny Salvation Army and the St. John’s Soup Kitchen in Newark.
Canstruction programs have raised more than 21 million pounds of food in more than 150 cities around the world in North America, Australia, South America, Europe and Asia since the program began in 1992.
Baumgartner said the Harrison Canstruction project has set a fundraising goal of $20,000 “to support our quest to feed the hungry.”
In a letter to prospective donors, Baumgartner explains: “Your donation will be used to buy cans of food which will be used to make the Canstructions,” which, she adds, “will be donated to those in need.”
And, she says that, “for every donation of $250 we will advertise your business or organization on T-shirts for our participating students to wear. For a $500 donation, we will advertise your name and have a sign with your business or organization logo displayed at the construction exhibition.”
“For donations over $500, we will acknowledge your contribution by displaying your business or organization logo on both the students’ T-shirts and on a sign at the culminating exhibition,” she says in the letter.
Just as important as “being a creative means of feeding the hungry,” Baumgartner says the project “is a means for the students of Harrison School District to use the skills that they have learned in their classes in a real world context and serve their community as well.”
So, for example, in organizing the can collection campaign, students will need to apply entrepreneurial, business-related skills and in designing and executing the Canstruction project, they will use mathematical and rudimentary engineering lessons as they execute their design, all under adult supervision, Baumgartner said.
The final product will be unveiled to the public in the middle school gym by mid-May, at a date to be announced, she said.
The Harrison Education Foundation is the official sponsor of the project.
An adult steering committee, led by Baumgartner, will help guide the Harrison Canstruction project. Its members are: STEM Academy instructor Joe Wrobeleski; Family Friendly instructors Sean Dologhan and John Carey; instructor Mary Ann Dunphy, fundraising chair; instructor Gabby Zygnerski, serving as treasurer/business manager; Washington School Principal Michael Landy; and Norma Bianchi, of the Harrison branch of Valley National Bank, serving as fundraising advisor, together with assistants Julie Smith and John Montesano.