By Ron Leir
Six area food pantries are the beneficiaries of this year’s Kearny High School Canstruction project, dividing up more than 28,000 cans containing a variety of fruits and vegetables.
That haul, collected with the help of community donations fundraised by a team led by indefatigable volunteer Paul Rogers, topped last year’s total by about 8,000 cans, according to KHS business teacher Melody LaRossa, who helped coordinate this year’s effort.
LaRossa and science instructor Chuck Polk co-advise the KHS Engineering Club whose members assembled several colossal structures made entirely out of full cans of food to heighten awareness of world hunger.
Since the charity Canstruction was founded in 1992 as a means of providing some measure of hunger relief, projects like Kearny’s have helped raise more than 25 million pounds of food in North and South America, Australia, Europe and Asia, according to the Canstruction website.
The cans collected by Kearny volunteers – making the third straight year the high school has participated – were distributed among pantries run by St. Stephen’s, St. Cecilia’s and 1st Presbyterian Churches in Kearny, the Salvation Army of Greater Kearny and Apostle’s House and St. John’s Soup Kitchen, both in Newark.
It took the brainpower and sweat of 31 KHS students – sophomores, juniors and seniors – to make the finished project possible.
After debating on a theme for the project – “Under the Sea” and “World Cup Soccer” were considered – students opted to go with an image of the Pac-Man video game, with its scenario of Pac-Man “eating” all of the dots before the ghosts get him evoking the idea of eliminating hunger.
The students are given a budget of $18,000 – the sum amassed by Rogers and his team from individual and corporate donors — which they can use to put together their project: a giant Pac- Man model, four ghosts, an Atari game system with joystick and a couch for the imaginary player – all to be made from cans of food.
Armed with paper, pencils and rulers, the future engineers of Kearny High set aside time several mornings before classes to do their calculations, sketch out building concepts and do some simulations before devising a final plan of attack.
They divided themselves into teams for each part of the can puzzle and team leaders helped facilitate the planning, trial runs and actual construction.
Their “building materials” were metal cans of mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks, peas, green beans and spaghettios, each category of food represented by a different colored can.
As expected, the Pac-Man model posed the toughest calculation: how to design its open mouth. Seniors Anthony Belo, 18, president of the Engineering Club, and Kevin Zajac, 17, who’s been admitted to NJIT’s civil engineering program, said the challenge was how to best stack the cans so that gaps between layers (to simulate the open mouth) would be solidly supported.
They practiced with different offsets until they achieved the right balance. And, when they realized that sections of cardboard wedged between layers for support were sagging in spots, they replaced those with thin sections of plywood.
Students used milkcrates as makeshift ladders as they built up the ascending layers of yellow-colored pineapple cans to assemble their Pac- Man creation. The finished product, consisting of 2,800 cans spread over 16 layers, stood 8 feet tall.
Senior Pablo Galarza, 18, vice president of the Engineering Club, took charge of assembling the four ghosts, each model consisting of 1,200 cans stacked in 12 layers to a height of five feet. Each ghost had a different primary colored can with a varying colored can to fashion its mouth.
The completed project was placed on public view in the gym at the Salvation Army of Greater Kearny before it was taken apart so the cans could be distributed to the pantries.
KHS Principal Al Gilson congratulated the students for demonstrating the principles of “service, team building, critical thinking, authenticity and being community-oriented. And, although it was a lot of work, they made it look easy.”
Here’s a list of the participating students: Alexander Almeida, Alexander Parreiras, Anthony Belo, Benjamin Miranda, Brianna Serrano, Bryan Rodrigues, Bryan Veloso, Damian Swider, Daniel Amaro, Eduardo Garcia, Emanuel Montalvo, Gabriela Oliveira, Gabriella Pereira, Kelly Martins, Kevin Zajac, Lacey Burton, Maciej Sudol, Marco Martins, Melanie Hill, Melissa Rosales, Michael Fiedziuk, Nereida Barrios, Nicol Vargas, Pablo Galarza, Ricardo Silva, Samantha Ayala, Samantha Pires, Susana Freire, Tiffany Olivera, Tyler Hemphill and Tyler Pacheco.
In 2013, Canstruction events across the world donated over 4.7 million pounds of food serving 3.9 million meals to needy families.