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Build day at the Calgary Food Bank’s Canstruction event

Food bank demand has jumped 24 per cent in January and February over the same time last year.

Fluor structural engineer Robert Mitchell said their team was able to put their professional skills to work to build a set of teacups out of canned food.

The roughly 10-foot-high tin can construct was all a part of the Calgary Food Bank’s Canstruction build day at Southcentre Mall on Thursday.  It’s the 17th year Canstruction has been operating, and it’s where teams procure cans and erect theme-related designs.

Then the cans – all 37,000 of them – are given to the food bank to help fill more than 10,000 hampers.

This year’s theme was Alice in WonderCAN.

Fluor structural engineer, Robert Mitchell, poses with their group’s creation of the Alice in Wonderland teacups at the Canstruction build day for the Calgary Food Bank at Southcentre Mall on March 16, 2023. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The Fluor team’s structure, called Clean cup, clean cup, move down! started with a brainstorming session. Mitchell said that’s the time you throw all ideas into the mix.  

“You come up with things that are going to look cool and things you can actually build,” he said.

Many of the structures are more than just cans stacked on top of each other in a funky design. Some have pressboard girding to provide some stability for the design (where the structural engineering comes in, we’re sure).

Their inspiration came from what Mitchell said was an iconic moment in Alice in Wonderland – the tea party.

“Being Alice in Wonderland, we knew we had to build something very vibrant – lots of colour,” Mitchell said.  

“So, we settled on teacups. They come in all colors, shapes and sizes.”

While the design is fun, Mitchell said they help because the need in Calgary is great. Fluor has been a sponsor of the event since it launched in 2006.

“We helped bring Canstruction to Calgary and it has thrived and we’re just really proud of that,” he said.

“We want to help everyone that can’t help themselves at the time; give everyone a hand up.”

Big jump in food bank demand over 2022

Betty Jo Kaiser with the Calgary Food Bank said the Canstruction event is great for both building awareness and community. This year, however, it takes on an even greater meaning.

In January and February of 2022, more than 17,600 hampers were distributed. In those same months in 2023, it’s nearly 22,000 – or a roughly 24 per cent increase.

“It’s really cool to see the different organizations roll up their sleeves and get involved but at the end of the day, it’s about feeding people and the need continues to grow,” she said.

The demand is driven by both an increase in newcomers (11 times higher), but also by the food affordability situation. Kaiser said that more people keep coming back. They track the clients who say their primary source of income is their wages and that number is up 31 per cent.

“These are folks that are working, they have jobs, but their paychecks don’t stretch,” she said.

This year, nine teams took part in the Canstruction Calgary event. A handful of the teams have been participating since inception.

Teams include: The City of Calgary, Suncor, Maple Reinders Inc, Fluor, St. Michael school, Associated Engineering, Spartan Controls, St. Ambrose School, and Bantrel.

The teams are judged in six categories, including best meal, said Kaiser. That’s where selecting cans for the project becomes key.

“The Queen of Hearts display has vegetable soup, canned tomatoes, just a little bit more variety,” she said.

“Every one of those cans all of that food is so important and goes into those hampers to round out the healthy, nutritious food that we’re offering Calgarians that are experiencing food insecurity.”

More than half a million pounds of food has been raised since they started in 2006.

The structures are up until March 31. If you want to visit them at Southcentre mall, you’re encouraged to bring along a non-perishable food item.

Cash donations can be made at the Calgary Food Bank website.