ST. ALBANS — A flurry of activity has overtaken the Northwest Technical Center, all for the sake of food.
On Thursday, students rushed around the building trades shop, several with paint brushes and a few using a saw. Instructor Mark Capsey attended to a stream of students knocking on his office door, all eagerly asking what they could do next to continue the year’s first project: building an American flag from soup and tuna cans and waving as if in wind, placed on wheels.
The project, called “Can-struction,” is one piece of a community food drive with the campaign Food From the Heart. In conjunction with the St. Albans Messenger, the New England Federal Credit Union (NEFCU), Hannaford supermarkets of St. Albans and Enosburgh, and the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO), NWTC is helping encourage non-perishable food donations to Northwest Family Foods.
The campaign began Sept. 9 and runs through the 30th. Donation drop-off locations include both Hannaford groceries, the Richford Health Center, Northwest Family Foods, NEFCU, Island in the Sun Senior Center in Alburgh, St. Joseph’s Church in Grand Isle and the Enosburgh Food Shelf.
For Capsey, the project came as a last-minute request just before school ended in June and has been a good challenge for his 24 new students. NEFCU had the idea for the flag, building materials were donated by Swanton Lumber, Hannaford donated 450 Campbell’s soup cans for the stripes and 130 tuna cans for the stars, and NWTC has been doing the rest.
“Building Trades donated its labor,” said Capsey. “It was great to approach the class at the beginning of the year and have them brainstorm how to make this thing. The challenge was to make this thing portable so it could sit in different sponsors’ lobbies; with all the soup cans and the tuna cans and the wood involved, this thing is going to weigh about 700 pounds.”
In addition, Principles of Engineering Bellows Free Academy-St. Albans teachers Pete Symula and Brett Walker helped design the flag using computer programs.
“They were able to make all our shelves for the cans nice and consistent,” said Capsey.
Symula wrote, “It was a great cause, which brought us together really early in the year. [W]e look forward to working on other community oriented projects throughout the year.”
NWTC Digital Video Production Instructor Anthony Sorrentino is having his students document the process.
“I helped Mark rig a digital video camera up in the shop that is capturing every step of the process,” Sorrentino explained in an email last week. “Once complete, I will use the footage with my digital video production class to demonstrate a time lapse and create a loop that can be played next to the completed structure.”
Capsey expected the project to take two full weeks – the goal is to complete it by Thursday of this week for display at the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce monthly mixer.
There, according to NEFCU senior marketing executive Cindy Morgan, she wants to solicit canned food, and spread the word that Northwest Family Foods could use more donations.
“My overall goal was to get as much food for them as possible,” said Morgan. She added that her company makes an effort to do community service events when they are most helpful to the recipient, and while NEFCU was thinking of a canned food drive in February (pairing the Food from the Heart campaign around Valentine’s Day), they quickly learned it would be more helpful this time of year.
While most food drives take place around the winter holidays, places such as Northwest Family Foods see a lot of customers in the summertime, when children aren’t receiving school lunches.
According to Northwest Family Foods Coordinator Walt Gaskill, the food shelf has seen increased numbers of households looking for help during the past couple of months.
“We’ve been hit pretty hard lately,” he said. While 497 families visited the food shelf in January 2015 and 477 came in March, July saw 714 households – or 1,843 individuals – and August had a total of 732 household visits.
“It’s going up,” said Gaskill. “We appreciate donations year round.”
With September being Hunger Action Month, and the increased need of Northwest Family Foods, it all lined up for Morgan and NEFCU.
“It’s really important for us to look at those opportunities,” she said.
The Food From the Heart food drive has created other opportunities too, like starting the NWTC school year off with a bang.
“It created a lot of excitement,” said Capsey. “It was nice to see (the students) buy into what’s going on.”
NWTC assistant director Lisa Durocher added, “The project has brought together different departments within the school and it has brought together the business community and the education community at the school. Our school is dedicated to supporting our community – it’s great.”
Anyone interested in attending the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce mixer can go on Sept. 17th, at 5:30 p.m. It will be held at the New England Federal Credit Union Branch on Tucker’s Way, near Walmart. It costs $5 for members and $8 for non-members – attendees will need to register. Visit http://business.visitfranklincountyvt.com/events/details/september-mixer-2866.