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Can-structing a can-do cat

NORTH LIBERTY– Have you seen the “Nyan Cat?” No, not the Neon cat nor the nano cat.
The “Nyan Cat,” pronounced “Knee-ahn,” is a worldwide web video sensation with millions of fans, and one local junior high art club is tapping into the viral power of the feline animation to fight hunger.
How are they fighting hunger with a cartoon cat?
First, this is no ordinary cat. Nyan Cat has a pink frosted-cake body and flies through space leaving a rainbow trail in the sky. A 100-hour version of the cat’s celestial dance can be found on YouTube, along with other shorter versions and different interpretations.
The North Central Junior High (NCJH) art club has chosen the cat as their mascot for a larger-than-life structure made of canned food items. Engineers from local firm Shive-Hattery met with the group to help with design strategies in the weeks leading up to the competition.
Their giant Nyan Cat will be on display at Coral Ridge Mall starting April 14, when the seventh annual “Corridor Canstruction Competition” begins.
Afterward, the food will be donated to the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) food reservoir for distribution to shelters, pantries and crisis centers around Eastern Iowa for families in need of assistance.
In Johnson and Linn counties, almost 14,000 individuals a month seek emergency food assistance at pantries and soup kitchens, and HACAP distributes over two million pounds of food annually to hungry people in seven Eastern Iowa counties.
This year, NCJH students raised over $1,500 to purchase canned foods that will be the material for a 15-foot version of the popular cartoon cat with the catchy theme song.
In just one week, NCJH raised the money through an exciting homeroom competition in the school’s “February Penny Wars.”
Penny wars are waged between classes to see who can bring in the most pennies to claim victory. It sounds simple, but there’s a twist: silver and paper money count negatively toward the classroom balance. So alliances between classes are formed to bomb their competitors’ collections with loose change and dollar bills. Every nickel, dime or quarter counts as a minus, every penny is plus one.
The hotly-contested battles are a race for single cents to offset the money bombs.
The NCJH math club counts up the cash and all of the kids’ work leads up to April 14, when the NCJH group will have just a few hours to build their colorful Nyan Cat at the Coral Ridge Mall.
This year the school surpassed its $1,000 goal, said Dr. Pat Witinok, science teacher and department chair. With the money, they’ll be able to purchase nutritious sources of proteins and carbohydrates from sponsor HyVee, which gives the school a discounted rate on its stock.
Witinok has organized the Canstruction project for four years, and so far, the NCJH team has brought home a trophy every year, winning twice for best use of labels and once for the most imaginative construction.
NCJH will compete against schools in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids corridor while architects from Shive Hattery, OPN Architects, Rohrbach Associates, Heery International/Tallgrass, and Carlson Design Team will compete in a professional design category.
Entries will be judged by a team of jurors on aspects of design, structural ingenuity, nutrition and creativity, but all entrants are hoping to win the top prize, Juror’s Favorite.
NCJH art club coordinator Bri Swope is leading the NCJH team to finalize a design, purchase discounted food from HyVee and lead the team in a pre-build session before the competition.
Her group will use facts about hunger to tie into the theme and help visitors to the exhibit understand the need for more food distribution to families who lack food resources.
Each team is also asked to provide info about the weight and cost of the cans.
The Canstructions will be on display at the Coral Ridge Mall for one week for shoppers to enjoy and learn about food needs in our area.
The April 14 event begins at 7 a.m. on Saturday at the mall. Teams will have just three hours to build their monumental food sculptures in time for judges’ awards.
More information about the seventh annual “Corridor Canstruction Competition” can be found at their website: www.corridorcanstruction.org.