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Men's volleyball team puts the finishing touches on its winning entry during the "Canstruction" competition earlier this month

Liz Kroll was impressed – and pleasantly surprised.

"Oh my gosh, I'm totally flabbergasted," said Kroll, coordinator of Sheboygan County Food Bank. "This is the biggest private donation we've had."

Kroll and three local volunteers visited Lakeland College on Monday to pick up a whopping 13,442 non-perishable food items for the Sheboygan County Food Bank. The cans and boxes of food, collected over the past month by Lakeland students, faculty and visitors to campus, were hauled to Sheboygan in a truck. The food will now be distributed to local families in need through 10 area food banks or pantries.

"We have 2,500 families in our county who regularly depend on us," said Kroll, adding that number is growing. "I think it's amazing how the Lakeland community rallied to help us. Our shelves are nearly empty, and this will help so much."

Lakeland's food drive is tied to the annual Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference's "Cans Across the Conference" initiative. Each year since 2006, Lakeland has participated in this event, and the number of items raised by the Muskies community has skyrocketed from year to year.

In the past four years alone, Lakeland's total of collected and donated items has risen from 1,225 (in 2010) to 3,703 (2011) to 7,732 last year to the impressive total of 13,442 this year.

"I'm just so excited about how much effort everyone in the Lakeland community put into this," said Lindsey Vande Hoef, Lakeland's women's basketball coach who spearheaded the drive. "To think about how many more people we will help, people right here in our own backyard, is humbling."

This year's drive featured everything from door-to-door trick-or-treating for food by members of Lakeland's sports teams, to a first-time "Canstruction" event in the campus fieldhouse.

Lakeland College has been participating in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference's "Cans Across the Conference" community service initiative since 2006. In recent years, Lakeland's community has rallied more than ever, as the following breakdown shows:

YearLakeland's number of items collected
2006 790
2007 400
2008 1,191
2009 721
2010 1,225
2011 3,703
2012 7,739
2013 13,442

The "Canstruction" competition featured 14 teams comprised of athletes, student club members or Lakeland employees building creations of their choice with cans and boxes of food collected. The event, organized by Lakeland's Student Life department, was sponsored and judged by Sheboygan's A. Chappa Construction – which also donated money to the cause.

First place went to the men's volleyball team, which built a mini-volleyball court – complete with bleachers.

More than 5,000 non-perishable items were raised through the "Canstruction" event alone.

The women's softball team collected the most items, more than 2,000, and the men's volleyball team gathered more than 1,000.

On Monday, Dave Majerus, president of the Plymouth Food Bank, drove a truck he had borrowed from St. Vincent DePaul in Plymouth to Lakeland for the pickup. It was a team effort to load the thousands of items, with Plymouth Food Bank vice president Jerry Preder and Howards Grove's David Scharinger – Kroll's brother-in-law – lending a hand.

"This is a very surprising amount," said a smiling Majerus as he wheeled a dolly of boxes filled with food up a ramp and into the truck. "This is a lot."

Also helping pack the truck were Lakeland baseball coaches, members of the school's Student Life department and members of the Zeta Chi fraternity.

"It's nice that these young people are doing this," said Preder. "It's great to see."

After all the goods were loaded, Majerus pulled the truck's back door down and shut it. He then headed for the former Jo-Ann Fabrics store near the former Menards in Sheboygan, where the donated goods will be stored temporarily and then distributed to families in need.

"I'm just amazed by our students and everyone else here at Lakeland College who totally jumped on board, bought into this and did everything they could do to help," said Vande Hoef. "I'm just really proud."

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