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Student Can Creations Fight Local Hunger, Build Awareness

Student Can Creations Fight Local Hunger, Build Awareness

A few Lakota school hallways, cafeterias, classrooms and front offices were home to mounds of canned goods sculpted into true works of art this month.

The sculptures - on display at Lakota East High School, both East and West freshman campuses, and Ridge and Plains junior schools - were the culmination of students’ response to a community-wide challenge put forth by Reach Out Lakota. Called Can Creations, the second annual competition was designed to encourage local youth groups to build and display sculptures out of items needed by the local food pantry. 

The five participating Lakota schools built their creations out of about 5,800 total items that they collected through their individual food drives or through partnerships with local businesses. 

“When I first started Art Club here at Ridge, the big push was to have all of our clubs give back to the community and that’s been my philosophy ever since,” said Ridge Junior art teacher Amy Panfalone, whose students accepted the challenge on behalf of their school for a second year in a row. 

With the Stanley Cup being “all the rage” among Ridge students, the group planned their sculpture around this recognizable item. From last year’s experience, the group learned the importance of meticulous planning, including everything from the specific type and count of items needed to pull off their design. This also inspired them to partner with a local business that could assist with the can collection side of the project. 

“We just really like to partner with our community and really just help wherever we can,” said Sydney Paul, the human resources manager at Sunesis Construction. The company contributed the majority of the 300 soup, tomato and tuna cans required to build the final sculpture. 

“It’s neat for the students to see a community partner that wanted to help them with their project,” said Panfalone, also noting the creative decision-making and problem-solving involved in the process, not to mention the application of math, design and art skills that they learn in class. 

Cans organized into a skyline or city on floor with students standing behind it

“It takes a lot of time to basically stack a bunch of cans,” laughed Ridge eighth-grader Gertie Hutchison, explaining that the proportions and weight distribution were the hardest parts. She was also glad to partner with the school’s design and modeling students to tackle the handle part of the structure. 

Over at Lakota East Freshman, the project was propelled by a friendly competition between students and staff. The final tally amounted to almost 4,500 items, making it the largest food drive in the school’s history and taking the top spots among all participating schools. 

Spearheaded by school counselor Mary Jones, the school’s Hawk Ambassadors volunteered on a daily basis to count, organize and sculpt the student donations into a city they coined "Colgate City." The group molded the staff contributions into a castle. Students ultimately took the lead in the building-wide competition. 

“It was awesome to see this group, along with our whole building and staff come together for a great cause,” said East Freshman Principal Bill Brinkman.

Blue bus sitting on table built out of canned goods wrapped in blue paper

At Lakota East’s main campus, students involved in the school’s NEST Leadership Team took the lead. Short for Navigate, Empower, Support and Thrive, NEST’s mission drove their decision to participate. “Improving our school’s culture and climate among students and staff is our primary purpose,” said East junior Trevor Hall, who used the project as an opportunity to unite students and staff behind their challenge to donate canned goods. 

The group used social media, morning announcements and the school’s e-newsletter, among other tools, to spread the word. They used their peers’ shared interest in Fortnite to promote their end goal of building the infamous “Battle Bus.” 

Plains Junior School’s National Junior Honor Society were the ones to tackle the project at their school. They organized their cans into a “PJS” in the most high-traffic area of their school, the main hallway. 

"We’re so grateful for the caring student groups who took part in this friendly competition to show their support for their local food pantry," said Reach Out Lakota Director and CEO Brenda Yablonsky. "They showed a lot of teamwork, collaboration and creativity, as evidenced by their Can Creation sculptures."

The competition and public vote begins March 15 through March 22. The community is invited to visit Reach Out Lakota’s website to view and vote for their favorite sculpture. Awards will be announced across multiple categories, including the people’s choice award.

  • philanthropy