Architecture Students' Canstruction Project Fights Hunger in Fairmont

Monday, March 22, 2010

One thousand seven hundred seventy-six cans of vegetable medley. One hundred seventy-five cans of peas. One hundred cans of beef broth. One hundred cans of tomato sauce. Ninety cans of corn. Seventy-five cans of green beans.

Fairmont State University's American Institute of Architecture students recently donated more than 2,300 cans of food to the Soup Opera in Fairmont. The donation was the culmination of the group's Canstruction project.

The fourth annual Canstruction competition was held on March 2 at the Clay Center in Charleston. Eleven teams of architecture firms and other businesses or organizations from across the state designed and built structures made of cans of food as part of the event. The can creations were judged on the following categories: structural integrity, best use of labels, best meal, jurors' favorite, most cans used and people's choice.

The title of FSU students' can structure was "Take it to the streets and tell hunger to CAN it." Celebrating the 40th year of "Sesame Street," the FSU team recreated the stoop of the famous street -- complete with Oscar and Elmo.

"Oscar and Elmo are going to the streets to encourage people to donate canned food to nearby shelters and food banks. They know vegetables are a good source of nutrients, so our structure was made from items for vegetable soup," said Team Captain Meagan Pauley, a senior Architecture major from Charleston. "The stoop is the most common setting for the ‘Sesame Street' community; it is used to evoke the notion of community. They talk about all types of social issues on that stoop. I'm really proud of all of the hard work that we did and the effort that was put into our project. I think that it was effective. Most of the little kids loved our design, and the adults said that it brought back wonderful memories."

Other students participating on the FSU team were Lee Tribbie of Charleston, Jonathyn Reed of Charleston, Ashley Shaver of Tunnelton, Sean Reed of Parkersburg, Mary Rogers of Fairmont, Ashley Franklin of Fairmont, John Reid of Grafton, Marsha Benson of Glenville and Steven Whitmore of Oak Hill. Their faculty advisor was Philip Freeman, NCARB, Coordinator of the Architecture Program.

Although the FSU team did not come away with any of the awards presented on March 8 in Charleston, Pauley said aiding in the fight against hunger is the real reward. Most of the food donated during the competition goes to the Covenant House Food Pantry in Charleston. The FSU students wanted to share their food with the local community, so they went to the extra work of deconstructing their design and transporting all their cans back to Fairmont. On March 8, they made their 2,067 pound donation to the Soup Opera on 425 Quincy St. As they unloaded all the cans, Kitchen Coordinator Barbara Mundell said it was "just like Christmas."

Sheila Skidmore, Director of the Soup Opera, said the FSU students' donation means extra food for patrons for emergency food orders that are distributed once a month.

"We serve 200 families, which is about 350 to 400 individuals, each month. We always need extra help. We appreciate it. During 2009, we served over 35,000 meals. We need a lot of food to be able to do that. Fairmont State has always been very good to help us over the years. We'd like to thank the students for all their support. We're very fortunate and very blessed because of people like them," Skidmore said.

Architectural firms and businesses donated more than $2,500 to the student project to allow them to purchase the cans of food. Those who donated were Alpha Associates, Inc. of Morgantown; Astar Abatement, Inc. of Sissonville; E. Ted Boggess, Architect, Inc. of Princeton; Greg Williamson; Paradigm Architecture of Morgantown; Steven Engelhardt, whose donation was made in loving honor of his mother Helmtrud O'Brien; The Omni Associates-Architects, Inc. of Fairmont; Walmart of Fairmont; and WYK Associates, Inc. of Clarksburg.

"This has to be one of the most ingenious donations that the Soup Opera has received. We salute the inventiveness of the architecture students and are deeply appreciative of their thoughtfulness in wanting to donate the 2,300 cans of food they used to build the stoop from ‘Sesame Street' to the Soup Opera. Their gift will enable us to provide for those in our community who are in need," said J. Robert Baker, Chair of Soup Opera's Board of Directors.

For those who would like to donate to the Soup Opera, Skidmore said the facility's greatest need right now is for items that someone could make into a meal if needed, such as dry pasta and jars of sauce, pancake mix, macaroni and cheese, Hamburger Helper, dry cereal, canned fruits, vegetables, soups and meats. Other items needed are sugar, coffee creamer, baby food, diapers and formula.

The Soup Opera does more than serve meals and distribute emergency food supplies. The building also houses a clothing room, laundry and shower facilities. The Soup Opera is open seven days a week, 365 days a year. For more information about the Soup Opera, call (304) 367-1098.

For more information about Canstruction, visit For more information about the Architecture program at FSU, visit

Members of the American Association of Architecture Students (AIAS) at Fairmont State University stocked the shelves at the Soup Opera in Fairmont with more than 2,300 cans of food from their Canstruction project. In front from left to right are Meagan Pauley, Marsha Benson and Ashley Shaver. In the back row from left to right are Taylor Kraus and Ashley Franklin.


The Fairmont State University American Association of Architecture Students (AIAS) team is shown with their "Sesame Street"-themed Canstruction design at the Clay Center in Charleston.