In North Carolina, one in four children do not know where their next meal will come from. Once school lets out for the summer, these children may hungry, as school may be their only reliable food source. In Alamance County alone, 26 percent of children will go hungry over the summer.

Mieke Toland and John Plageman of Helping Feed Hungry Children of Alamance County want to change this statistic. With the help of local businesses and community members, they plan to raise 100,000 cans through the first annual Cansculpt event.

Cansculpt is part food drive, part sculpture competition where teams use cans to create sculptures and then donate the cans to the Allied Churches of Alamance County  (ACAC) after the event.

“Many families turn to Allied Churches’ food pantry to feed their kids, and ACAC relies on the community to keep its shelves stocked,” Toland said. “It is my personal goal to help ACAC fill their shelves in order to feed kids all summer long.”

After teams build their sculptures, voting will be open to the public, who can view the sculptures at the Holly Hill Mall all day May 7. Awards will be presented the following day, including “Most Cans Collected,” “Best Use of Can Label,” “Most Creative” and “Best Overall Sculpture.”

Cansculpt was developed in September, when co-organizers Toland and Plageman were discussing how to give back to the community.

“When John and I first talked about giving back to the community, I immediately thought of the many students I have worked with throughout the years that depend on their school for meals each day,” Toland said. “During summer vacation, free breakfast and lunch programs are not available to these students. As a result, families with school age children face extra hardship simply trying to put food on the table.”

Plageman, an architect, had experience with can sculpts when he was working as an architectural intern in Charlotte.

This will be the first cansculpt that Plageman is helping administer by emceeing the event and helping the build teams if they have any trouble out in the field.

The five teams participating are organizations in Alamance County: Glen Raven, Inc., City of Burlington leaders, Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, Plageman Architecture and Girl Scouts of America.

On the first day of the event, teams will have six hours to construct their sculptures. Allied Churches’ food pantry is located in the Holly Hill Mall, but their shelves are currently bare. Cans from the competition will be donated to the pantry.

“As summer is approaching, the stress that kids feel is tremendous,” Plageman said. “Parents also feel stress not being able to provide for their children.”

Though it’s not required, Plageman hopes that the teams will donate nutritious food to the pantries.

“They’ve got plenty of peas and beans, but we should be focusing on things they don’t have,” he said. “We would love to have high quality nutrition in mind instead of filler food. If you’re going to donate canned fruit, do it in natural juice instead of high fructose corn syrup.”

Any donation is welcome in the event, including donations for Allied Churches’ operating expenses. At the event, representatives from the Church will talk about their pantry and give tours to the public, and attendees will have the opportunity to donate.

Toland and Plageman have been planning the event for months, meeting twice a month with volunteers to plan logistics.

“We have five volunteers to head the event,” Plageman said. “Mieke is doing most of the heavy lifting as far as organizing and communicating and making the day-to-day nuts and bolts stuff work.”

Plageman held a kickoff meeting with the building teams and shared his experiences with cansculpt, offering design advice and tips on how to support the cans. He suggested they draw out the blueprints for the sculptures before building them to ensure that their six hours of building time is used wisely.

Cansculpt hopes to draw 1,000-2,000 people to Holly Hill Mall, which was chosen for its huge parking lot and so they could bring revenue to the businesses there.

Plageman hopes that Cansculpt will be a success and that it can become an annual event, with help from future corporate sponsors.

“It’s just us volunteers hosting this year, but I foresee it turning into something bigger, involving organizations that bring awareness to hunger,” he said.

Cansculpt’s overall goal is to fill Allied Churches’ pantries with enough food to last through the summer, which is why their target goal is 100,000 cans.

“If you think about the percentage of kids who are undernourished that actually utilize the food pantries, over the span of the summer they’re going to go through all 100,000 cans,” Plageman said. “My goal would be that this is a success for the summer and that we can take the momentum of this and make it a more annual event that continues to grow.”


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