They built the White House with beans, the Statue of Liberty from tuna, and the Golden Gate Bridge from carrots.

Team members from Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing put together that delicious look at America as part of the annual CANstruction artistic build competition that began Saturday at FairOaks Mall, 2380 25th St. in Columbus. The seven-member squad’s creativity with “Feeding America” earned them the Best Use of Labels award from a panel of judges.

Team member Yuri Motamedi mentioned that the intent was to highlight a measure of patriotic pride.

“The initial idea came off the election with the concept of everyone coming together (in unity),” Motamedi said.

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That’s also part of the idea of United Way of Bartholomew County’s colorful event featuring eight volunteer teams. CANstruction involves building a scene of a group’s choosing with canned goods. Label colors and designs of cans stacked and placed together create art — so much so that the Columbus Area Arts Council used to organize the gathering.

CANstruction’s Art Walk for Hunger is slated from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at the mall. Call it a kind of Cannery Row.

Along a path near the structures will be an explanation of the event, a few team members explaining their creations and representatives from area food pantries.

People can vote with canned goods for their favorite display as part of the People’s Choice Awards through noon Sunday. Shortly after that, displays will be dismantled, and the cans donated to Love Chapel, the Salvation Army, and the Community Center of Hope food banks for the needy.

Organizers hope to donate a record 40,000 cans to the three agencies, according to Kyle Hendricks, United Way’s marketing and communications coordinator. The previous record set last year was 36,000 cans.

Some teams began planning their designs in the fall, making the necessary calculations of the color of cans needed, placement, and such. Some others began meeting in December.

The Toyota team spent 5,325 cans and four-and-a-half hours Saturday to construct the various national ladmarks. Such an investment is simple to explain, according to Motamedi.

“It’s certainly a great way to give back a little bit, especially for our company,” he said. “And I think that says a lot.”

FairOaks Mall General Manager Kim Eckrote-Showalter said the week-long happening increases foot traffic in the facility.

“People really seem to love this event, and they stop by even on the build days (to watch),” Eckrote-Showalter said.

The Sunrise Rotary group used nearly all its 40 members at some point since the fall in their design called “Turtle Dude,” according to the squad’s Betsy Elwert. Member and longtime local artist Bob Schwartzkopf created the concept, as he has done since the team was involved in CANstruction.

“We think Bob does a great job coming up with those,” Elwert said.

The team recruited area businesses to cover the $3,000 cost for the 4,300 cans of groceries at a local discount mart, according to Elwert. Cans of chickpeas formed most of the water under the turtle and the ocean wave behind him.

“This is just a great, great community program where so many different teams and the food pantries come together,” Elwert said. “There are a lot of great causes in Columbus, and this is definitely one of them that’s wonderful to be a part of.”

After Rotary’s longest-ever, seemingly tortoise-like seven-hour weekend build, Elwert headed home for supper. Uh, nothing in the way of canned goods, however.

“No, no,” she said with a laugh. “I luckily had some leftovers I could dig into.”

The winners

  • Best Original Design: “Turtle Dude,” Columbus Sunrise Rotary Club
  • Most Cans: “Salt and Light,” Starving Artists
  • Best Meal: “1 Up Against Hunger,” Hawcreek Hauling
  • Best Use of Labels: “Feeding America,” Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing
  • Structural Ingenuity: “UNITED We Can!” Suzanne Diehn’s Columbus Signature Academy Fodrea fourth-grade class
Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.