Almost every year, an entry appears on the October page of the Schroeder family calendar which looks a lot like the previous year’s. It’s near the bottom of the page, late in the month. It says something about meat canning.
Since 1950, three generations of the Arlyss and Letha Schroeder family, Inman, Kan., have volunteered almost annually with Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) meat canner before and when it comes to North Newton, Kan.
They are in good company. More than 10,000 volunteers in Canada and the U.S. help at various sites each year, not only when the canner is in town but for months before, handling site preparation as well as gathering meat and volunteers.
MCC’s meat canning program has been operating since 1946. Its purpose is to provide safe, nourishing food in settings affected by war, disaster and malnutrition. In the 2011-2012 season, more than 556,000 cans, over 1 million pounds of meat, were produced. A portion of those cans was shipped to 12 countries, including to locations in Canada and the U.S.
A canning crew of four, all serving two-year terms with MCC, is on the road from October to early May, stopping at 33 locations. The crew travels with a 42-foot mobile canner where turkey, which is used most often, beef, pork or chicken is cooked and prepared for packaging at each site. The crew oversees the process, making sure that it adheres to standards set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and United States Department of Agriculture.
Brin Schroeder, 8, got her first experience with the meat-canning process when as a 2-year-old her parents, Mark and Shel Schroeder, took her along to the MCC Central States warehouse in North Newton, the current annual site. Brin has been helping since she was 5, doing age-appropriate tasks away from machines, like cleaning and labeling cans that have been filled with meat. Now, her 5-year-old brother Ian helps, too.
As a child, Brin’s grandfather, Arlyss, went with his parents too. In those days, canner sites would vary, shifting between the Buhler and Inman areas. Later, Arlyss and Letha’s four children volunteered with canning --“as far back as I can remember,” said Mark, Brin’s father.
He, too, started out labeling cans, but when he was older, he stirred meat in the large steam kettle on the canner itself.
Growing up, Mark helped out mainly because in his family, doing so was an expectation. When he went to Tabor College in Hillsboro, he chose to continue helping on his own.
“When you see a need, you want to help out where you can,” he said. Gifts of work, time and money come from God, he said. They are to be shared with people around the world.
Arlyss and Letha Schroeder hope for their grandchildren what they tried to impart to their children – a sense of responsibility for people of faith to serve and assist those in need.
Jason Unruh, Peabody, Kan., in his second year with MCC’s traveling canning crew, has no doubts about the essential role played by volunteers. “At every site, we need a minimum of 30 volunteers present at a time,” he said.
A variety of skills and capabilities are needed, said Unruh. Some do heavy work, like grinding and stirring meat or stacking boxes of finished cans. Labeling cans can be done while sitting down. Preparing and serving meals or refreshments to the canners and volunteers is another need, said Unruh.
Besides Unruh, this year’s traveling canning crew includes: David Bricker, Chambersburg, Pa.; Toby Penner Enns, Paratodo (Chaco), Paraguay; and Andrew Keeler, Bluffton, Ohio.
People or groups interested in volunteering can contact John Hillegass, MCC’s canning coordinator, at JohnHillegass@mcc.org, or (717) 859-1151. For additional information about the meat canner, visit canning.mcc.org.