Blue boxes of macaroni and cheese turned into bodies of water. Cans of soup and beans transformed into columns.
It was easy to tell that Wednesday was the first day of the Canned Food Castle Competition.
The contest, in its fourth year, involves five Newport Beach elementary schools — Andersen, Eastbluff, Harbor View, Lincoln and Newport Coast.
In previous years, only two or three campuses participated in the event. Five schools is the most it has ever had, said Sandy Mayhew, a Lincoln parent and the competition's chairwoman.
Each school was responsible for holding a weeklong food drive and then building a structure of students' choice once the cans and boxes were collected.
The schools began their food drives last week and built their masterpieces Wednesday, except for Newport Coast, which began collecting food this week and will begin building its structure next week.
Each school also chose a nonprofit to contribute the food to after the competition.
"We want to do this in January since food banks experience a huge drop in what they receive after the holidays," Mayhew said. "We also know there's big number of students at each of these schools, and when we all get together, we can accomplish something that will make a great impact."
On Wednesday, Lincoln's students gathered in the school's multipurpose room to stack the 2,963 cans and boxes they collected into a depiction of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. The blue boxes of mac and cheese served as the reflecting pool on the National Mall.
"We had decided on the Lincoln Memorial because we're Lincoln Elementary, but also because Monday was Martin Luther King [Day] and that's where he delivered his famous ["I Have a Dream"] speech," Lincoln parent Christine Carlin said.
Harbor View's can creation was inspired by a recent box office hit.
The gatherings were lined up to create the face of Yoda from the "Star Wars" movies on the floor of the multipurpose room. Above him was a paper text box reading "End hunger we must."
"We wanted to pick something that was relevant, and a lot of us have seen the new 'Star Wars,'" Harbor View fifth-grader Sophia Rabin said. "To see this go from a chalk outline on the floor to being Yoda's face was amazing."
Eastbluff students took turns during lunchtime to make their nearly 6-foot-tall castle.
"Our original idea was to make a tower, but then that led to making a castle," Eastbluff fourth-grader John Tung said. "It even has a moat that we made out of boxes."
In light of recent terror attacks in Paris, students at Andersen Elementary used their cans for a replica of the Eiffel Tower.
The competition's judge this year, Newport Beach police Officer Gary Clemente, will visit Newport Coast Elementary next week and the other schools Thursday and Friday to see the structures.
Newport Coast is still discussing what to build for its first year in the competition.
The total number of cans collected at each campus will be submitted to Clemente to determine who gathered the most.
On Jan. 29, he will announce the winners for the most creative structure and the most cans collected.