Canstruction up and running again


It’s that time of year again when Kearny High School students from all grades band together for an important common cause designed to, temporarily at least, combat hunger among the community’s neediest.

They do it through Canstruction, a global charity that, as described by its website, “hosts competitions, exhibitions and events showcasing colossal structures made of full cans of food” which, after being displayed to the public, are donated to local food pantries.

From these activities, Canstruction claims it has “helped raise nearly 40 million pounds of food since 1992 … in over 150 cities around the world …”

Kearny, meanwhile, is entering its fifth year of participation in the program with civic activist David Mach, a co-founder of the Kearny Community Garden and a member of the Kearny Municipal Utilities Authority, taking on the baton as chairman from Paul Rogers.

A new development this year features KHS students using the Archdiocesan CYO Retreat Center (the former Boystown property) on Belgrove Drive as Canstruction headquarters.

Additionally, Kearny students have taken on new partners in this year’s endeavor: The Kearny Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, Pathways to Independence associates and Kearny Catholic Youth Organization.

Back on board for their fifth year as project teammates are the Kearny FMBA (Fireman’s Mutual Benevolent Association) and Rutgers-Newark University students and athletes.

Mach said the Kearny Canstruction group hopes to build on last year’s total of more than 30,000 cans of food collected to help fill the shelves of six local food pantries.

In the past four years, KHS students have been responsible for amassing more than 100,000 cans of food delivered to the Salvation Army of Greater Kearny, St. John’s soup kitchen and Apostles House Emergency Shelter, both of Newark; and pantries from St. Cecilia’s Church, St. Stephen’s Church and First Presbyterian Church, all of Kearny.

This year, students will be adding a seventh pantry to the list: Kearny Community Food Pantry, based at Grace Methodist Church of Kearny.

In just three weeks, Kearny Canstruction has raised more than $17,000 in donations from many local citizens, businesses and civic organizations from the community toward the project, according to Mach.

The amount ultimately raised is key, ultimately, to the scope of the project.

Students apply their skills in engineering, logistics, art, architecture, 3D computer design and budgeting to build large sculptures from the thousands of cans of food purchased.

KHS business teacher Melody LaRossa, adviser to the school’s Engineering Club, which is coordinating the project, said that of the students volunteering, “10 are repeats from last year and several have participated for four years.”

What will the 2016 can structure look like?

LaRossa said, “We are going with an ocean theme and hope to have several structures reflecting things you see at the beach or in the water.

“We are currently working on the designs and calculating how many cans we will need. The number of structures we can build will depend on the amount of monetary donations towards our goal. The students will use computers and traditional graph paper to sketch out their designs based upon the size and dimensions of the particular cans they wish to use.”

Executing the project will be challenging, LaRossa said, given the students will have to work around important dates on the school calendar such as those days reserved for testing (including AP testing) and other events.

“It is not always easy and there will be days that some students stay back at school but they know their main priority is their school work,” she noted.

Students will be credited with community service hours for the time they put into the project outside of the school day, LaRossa said.

Aside from that, however, LaRossa said students realize, “This project is extremely important to the community because we are able to raise awareness of the needs of those less fortunate. Food is a basic necessity and often one many of us take for granted. [Through the program], we are able to provide thousands of cans to the local food pantries at a time when their donations are down. Many of the letters we receive from the pantries reflect the fact that in the summer months, many people do not donate, yet their needs continue. By giving them donations at this time, we help them get through the summer.”

Echoing that theme, KHS senior/Engineering Club President Gabriella Pereira, wrote in a letter to a prospective corporate donor, that, “My three years working and volunteering [for Canstruction] has changed my life.” She said the experience has been “a huge eye opener to not only learn team work,” but also to learn the value of “hard work, helping others and … volunteerism.”

Canstruction sponsors and the public will be invited to view the cansculptures after the build — and donors’ names will be printed in a “Donation Hall of Fame” to be placed alongside the finished product, Mach said.

Anyone desiring to donate money, cans or help in transporting the cans is asked to contact the group at Checks, payable to Kearny CANstruction, may be sent to Kearny CANstruction, P.O. Box 351, Kearny, N.J. 07032.

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