COLUMBIA — Sunny Lee was happy to sit at the helm of the Korean Rocket as it entered the water outside Bass Pro Shops on Saturday morning.
There was only one problem. She can't swim.
"If Sunny starts to drown, you have to save her," Amanda Carr said to first mate Donghwan Seo.
The painted silver vessel, constructed by a group of MU students from South Korea, was one of 52 cardboard boats that entered to race in the third Float Your Boat for the Food Bank event. Teams representing area businesses, organizations and families collected donations and built boats from cardboard, duct tape, latex paint and other materials. The funds raised Saturday benefit the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri.
Carr, who is the program coordinator for the Asian Affairs Center at MU, thought the competition would be a fun way to get involved in the community.
Two cardboard boats were pitted against each other every heat. The Korean Rocket didn't win its heat, but it managed to stay afloat, keeping Lee out of the water.
Although most of the cardboard boats made it through the course, some disintegrated on the voyage across the pond.
Members of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow barely made it off the shore before they sank.
"We already saw water coming into the boat at the very beginning," MU freshman Maria Kalaitzandonakes said.
"It was so worth it," she said. "It was so much fun to see the look on everyone's faces."
Dressed in pink, donning sparkling tiaras, she and her three cohorts were plunged into frigid waters.
"It was freezing," Kalaitzandonakes said. "At first, there was dread. Then we just had a hell of a time with it."
She admitted that they were unprepared; they started with a giant refrigerator box and had to learn to use box cutters. Even so, according to Kalaitzandonakes, they are excited for next year's competition.
"We are gonna come back with fury," she said.
Participants collected donations and competed for various awards including the Ugliest Boat and the Titanic Award for Best Sinking.
The latter went to Barnacles and Tartar Sauce, a "Spongebob Squarepants"-themed boat constructed by a group of eight friends.
"It's for a really good cause," said Wendy Trimble, who competed in last year's event as well.
Trimble and crewmate Gaby Lopez swam to shore after their boat slowing sank into the lake midway through the course.
Their spirits weren't shattered.
"Spongebob is meant to be underwater," Trimble said.
Members of the Columbia Fire Department volunteered to pull shipwrecked crew members from the water, though some chose to swim.
The boats entered in the race this year ranged from a giant hot dog to a dragonfly. A corn-husk theme was popular with several groups.
A small, flat-bottomed boat named Going, Going, Gone was entered by employees at Isle of Capri. According to Marlon Jones, Isle of Capri holds food drives every year for the Food Bank.
"I heard about this on the radio and thought it was something we should do," he said.
Their boat was captained by Andy Hays, who was dressed in swim trunks and equipped with snorkeling gear. His first mate was Lisa Wharton, who had an anchor tattoo on her left foot.
"We only spent about 20 hours on it," Jones admitted. Most teams said they spent six weeks to two months.
"It's a nice day for a swim," Jones joked.
Surprisingly, Going, Going, Gone made it through the course. Hays said he was shocked that they went so fast.
"We'll definitely be back next year," he said. "We're already planning."
That's exactly the response that Tom Payne, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources, was hoping to elicit. The college sponsors the annual event, which was Payne's brainchild.
When he pitched the idea of a cardboard boat race to his colleagues a few years ago, they were skeptical.
"They thought I was nuts," Payne said. "They thought they would be racing small boats, but I said, 'No, we have to get in the boats.'"
Payne was inspired to hold the fundraiser when he and his wife witnessed a cardboard boat parade in a small town on their way home from a trip in New York. He had never constructed one before but thought it would be a good community event for Columbia.
Payne said the partnership with the Food Bank was a natural fit for the college.
Last year's event raised enough money to provide 188,000 meals, according to Peggy Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Food Bank. They are hoping that this year's event will raise enough to provide 250,000 meals.
According to Kirkpatrick, the need for food in Missouri continues to grow.
"Missouri is now second in the nation in low food insecurity," she said.
This means that many families are reducing their meal sizes or skipping meals altogether.
"It's usually families with kids," Kirkpatrick said. "The parents just go without."