A Can-Do Attitude

In 2006 I attended a charity fundraiser that defined the good times we lived in. The live auction was ridiculous, with bidding wars going into five figures for trips and jewelry valued in the low four figures. Back then, people had money to throw around, and they were kind enough to toss it at good causes with tax write-offs.

Last year, at a fundraiser for nursing scholarships, the live auction ended almost as quickly as it started. Realizing that everyone in the room was sitting on their hands, the hosts politely stopped the auction and, to lighten the mood, started the dance music.

Go to even the grandest charity galas in Orlando today and it’s easy to see that the era of irrational exuberance is over. I’ve walked past table after table of silent auction items, noticing that many bid sheets were bare and the ones with bids had only a name or two on them.

Knowing how tough the charity circuit is right now, I was not surprised to hear that one annual local effort to help the needy, scheduled for this month, was on the verge of being canceled. It is a low-key benefit that flies under the radar in the charity circles, but its impact on Central Floridians in despair cannot be understated.

Canstructionorlando is not your typical charity event that raises money through sponsorships, ticket sales and auctions and then donates the net proceeds to a particular altruistic organization. It relies on teams of architects and engineers to build elaborate structures out of canned food, with a thousand cans the minimum number used for each project. In the past, teams have built giant replicas of a Tonka toy bulldozer, a disco dancer, a Rubik’s Cube, Superman (called “Supercan”) and a surfboarding dog on a wave, which took 10,000 cans. While canstruction is a national competition among architects, it is also a local effort to help supply the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

By early August, only two teams had signed up to participate in canstructionorlando. Architecture firms were reluctant to commit time and money (thousands of cans are bought by the firms) to a goodwill endeavor to feed strangers at a time when they were struggling to keep their own staffs, some reduced by 75 percent, fed.

“We were unsure of what we were going to do and we were ready to cancel,” recalls the event’s chair, Deborah Rosnuck, CFO of Burke Hogue Mills Inc., an architecture and interior design firm in Lake Mary. “A lot of our own people are looking for work and actually may be in need of supplies the Second Harvest Food Bank makes available.”  

An 11th-hour flurry of pleas to architecture firms and the host site’s decision to advertise the event to the public saved canstructionorlando from becoming another casualty of the recession. On October 18, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Orlando Fashion Square mall, 11 teams will build a city of cans. The “Our City Can” exhibit will be on display through October 25, and you can walk down the can city’s Main Street and see for yourself the exacting details that go into building a home, church and fire station out of cans of food. 

“There is a spirit about canstruction that is really hard to kill because it’s really about food for Central Floridians,” says Rosnuck. “It’s all about the food.”

And it’s about the attitude that people working together can make a difference.


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