Students are canning hunger in the Memphis community
By Jess Nabakowski March 7, 2011
The Memphis community has many needs, but thanks to local high school students, hunger doesn’t have to be one of them. CANstruction, a non-profit organization that collects food for local food banks and shelters, is teaming up with five Memphis high schools to build their way to the end of hunger in this community.
Canstruction, which is a competition that has been sponsored by the Younger Members Group of the American Society of Civil Engineers West Tenn. Branch since 2007, is not just a local competition. Canstruction officials report that CANstruction takes place in 100 cities nationwide, and since 1992, has raised more than 15 million pounds of food for local food banks and shelters across the country.
“Canstruction allows students to not only work with professional engineers and design and build their own structures out of cans of food, but it puts the opportunity to make a great change in our community in the hands of students,” said Jamie Nabakowski. Nabakowski, 24, is a graduate of the University of Memphis and a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Memphis, and has been assisting Bartlett High School with their construction project.
Bartlett High, along with Collierville High, St. Agnes Academy, White Station, and Harding Academy are the five schools that will compete in Canstruction at the University of Memphis this year. Although this is fewer schools than have competed in the past, with 11 schools competing in 2009 and 10 in 2010, the competition is a great way for schools to get involved and positively influence teenagers in contributing to their community.
Sheri Greer, an Algebra teacher at Bartlett High and sponsor of the Canstruction team, has been working for several months with a group of about 10 students. She said the process starts with a $300 allowance that the University of Memphis gives to each participating high school. The schools use this allowance to purchase cans of food in different sizes.
“We also have students bring cans to school, and donors from the community give cans as well,” Mrs. Greer said.
This year, Bartlett has constructed the food pyramid. They started with large cans of fruits and vegetables and stacked canned meats and dairy products on top. Jars of peanut butter and packs of Ramen noodles made up the sides of the pyramid.
“The pyramid is solid and made completely of canned foods,” said Logan Mays, a freshman and Canstruction team member at Bartlett High School. Mays said he wanted to be a part of Canstruction because “it’s good to be able to help the community, and it also looks good on college applications. It’s good for everyone.”
Bartlett’s Canstruction team was made up of freshman and sophomores who wanted to participate in the competition. “I wanted to be a part of Canstruction because I am interested in engineering, and it’s a good way to see kind of what they do,” said Corinna Carter, a sophomore at Bartlett. Carter said she hopes to be an architectural engineer one day, and Canstruction is a unique version of that.
The Canstruction teams met for several months in order to prepare for the competition. They carefully picked out cans according to size, label color, and type of food, and on Friday morning Bartlett, Collierville, St. Agnes, White Station, and Harding competed in the final competition.
The teams are judged in five different areas: Best use of labels, best meal, best structural ingenuity, biggest meal [most cans] and judge’s favorite,” said Carol Dodge, 25, who is the president of ASCE Younger Members Group and engineer for Memphis Light Gas and Water. Carol was also in charge of the CANstruction competition this year.
This year, Bartlett High, who created a food pyramid, won the “Best Meal” award. St. Agnes, with their Chuck Taylor tennis shoe structure, won the “Structural Ingenuity” competition, White Station, who made a game boy out of their cans, won Honorable Mention. Harding Academy, who created a piece of watermelon and a picnic, won “Best Use of Labels.” Collierville High, who created a scene from the movie Bambi, won “Judge’s Choice” and “Biggest Meal.”
After the competition, the structures will stay on display in the lobby of the Administrative building of Herff College of Engineering, and then all the cans of food will go to local food banks and into the pantries of people in need. To date, the Memphis competition alone has raised 50,000 pounds of food for the Memphis Food Bank, and Canstruction, nationwide, raised two million pounds of food in 2010 alone.
“It really is a great way to provide for the need in our community,” Nabakowski said.