CINCINNATI — If you are like me — and a bazillion other parents across the world — you took your kids to see the new Star Wars movie.
And if your kids are anything like mine, they loved that cute, rolling droid BB-8.
Now through March 27, there's a larger than life BB-8 in the lobby of the Hampton Inn & Suites downtown that could give you a chance to wow your kids and educate them about hunger in our region.
That's because the sculpture is made of canned food, and it's part of Cincinnati's 19th annual Canstruction competition.
The competition challenges teams of local architects, engineers, designers and contractors to compete by designing and building sculptures made of canned vegetables, tomato sauce, tuna and other food. After the competition is over, all of the food is donated to the Freestore Foodbank, which distributes it to the thousands of hungry people in our region.
Full disclosure: I was one of the judges for this year's competition, and the creativity of the 16 entries made me determined to take my own family on a walking tour to see them all.
There's plenty to see, even if you aren't enamored with the latest Star Wars droid, which was designed and built by MSA Architects.
Another one of my favorites was a giant record player sculpture called "Notes from the Past, Hope for the Future." CR architecture + design made that one, and it sits in the lobby of the Center at 600 Vine.
It really shows off Cincinnati's music history, with a tribute to Crosley turntables and King Records all in one.
There is no charge to see any of the sculptures, but the public is encouraged to bring canned goods or make a donation to the Freestore Foodbank.
'It Was a Blessing'
Canstruction is among the three biggest food drives to benefit the Freestore Foodbank each year, and participants end up donating more than 60,000 cans of food each season, said Sarah Cook, a public relations specialist there.
Since Canstruction started in Cincinnati, those donations have provided the equivalent of 546,000 meals, Cook said. And that doesn't even include this year's event.
Canstruction comes at a good time of year for the organization, too.
"Holidays are actually the biggest time of year for us to receive donations," Cook said. "So having an event like this in March — it's great to be receiving such a substantial number of canned goods."
All those donations help families like Raja Salaam's.
Salaam lives in Bond Hill. And while she and her family are much more financially stable now, there was a time not too long ago that she counted on food from Freestore Foodbank for herself and her four children, who range in age from 9 to 18.
"It was a blessing," she said. "I was in a real hard place. I don't know how I would have survived without it."
I thought about families like Salaam's when I was helping to judge Canstruction.
I spent just as much time looking at the lists of ingredients as I did the sculptures themselves.
Here's a tip for looking at the sculptures, by the way: If you can't see the design too clearly, try looking through a camera on a phone. Or a real camera if you have one. The designs really pop that way for reasons I don't understand.
But back to the ingredients. Studying those lists made a big fan of the Dory and Nemo sculpture at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Downtown.
Named "Feeding Dory," which I'm guessing is a nod to the movie "Finding Dory" that is scheduled for release in June, the sculpture used 1,000 cans of tuna and salmon. It also used canned spaghetti and meatballs and macaroni and beef, making it one of the most protein-packed creations in the competition.
That told me that the people at Champlin Architecture, who designed "Feeding Dory," thought about the kind of food they would be donating in addition to how to make their creation look good.
That's the kind of art that we all should be able to appreciate.
For more information about Canstruction, click here.
For information about Canstruction's 90-minute Strut the Structures guided walking tours, click here.
For more information about Freestore Foodbank and how to donate, click here.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO.