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a giant caterpillar made of donated canned goods This very hungry caterpillar, which is made out of canned goods, will soon feed some very hungry people when it is dismantled and donated to a food bank. (Photo Courtesy Grace McManus)

The CAN-do Spirit

Art meets food donations to feed the hungry

By Grace McManus | November 30 , 2009
Scholastic Kid Reporter Grace McManus and Canstruction New York chairperson Leah Suzanne Kaplan view the <i>Very Hungry Caterpillar</i>, built with 9,168 cans of tuna that will be donated to those in need.
Scholastic Kid Reporter Grace McManus and Canstruction New York chairperson Leah Suzanne Kaplan view the Very Hungry Caterpillar, built with 9,168 cans of tuna that will be donated to those in need.

Canstruction is an international charity that helps feed the hungry in an unusual and creative way.

Imagine a gigantic sculpture of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, made from 9,168 cans of tuna that will be donated to hungry families. Or an enormous St. Bernard dog, can-structed from 3,600 cans of artichoke hearts, olives, and tuna, which will go to feed the needy. Or a four-foot high piggy bank, built out of 3,024 cans of salmon and tuna, providing protein for people who can’t afford it.

Those are just three of 30 amazing sculptures at the recent Canstruction New York competition/exhibit, built by volunteer teams of architects and engineers using only containers of food.

"It brings awareness of the hunger issue in the city," said Leah Suzanne Kaplan, Chairperson, Canstruction NY. "And it gets actual food to the people that are hungry and need it."

After the sculptures were on exhibit at the World Financial Center, they were taken apart, and the 100,693 cans of food used to build them were donated to City Harvest, which distributed them to soup kitchens and food pantries.

"The windfall of food collected from Canstruction will help stock shelves at emergency feeding programs at a time when more families are turning to them for food," said City Harvest spokesperson Erin Hoover.

Started 17 years ago, Canstruction competitions are now held in more than 100 cities across the U.S. and around the world. All of them donate food to the hungry, and all of them have found that some cans work better than others. One of the most popular is tuna. With its round shape and rimmed edge, it has what's called "stackability."

"You want to be able to stack in such a way that's strong and they'll stay up," explained Kaplan, "because there's nothing, no permanent glue holding them together. So that's what we look for when we say 'stackability.' Something that will hold its own weight." Canstruction teams also look for food with high nutritional value, including peanut butter, beans, peas, soup, and pasta.

Canstruction New York asked exhibit visitors to donate individual cans of food, which were also given to City Harvest. "It becomes a food drive at the same time," Kaplan said. "It takes one person to make a difference, to help other people. So one can make a difference."

For more information about Canstruction New York, check out the program's website.

Kids and the Economy

Kid Reporters take a look at the economy and how it is affecting kids and their communities during this holiday season in the Kids and the Economy Special Report.

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