Even during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and local Anabaptist churches and partners continue to find ways to bless their communities—including through the distribution of MCC canned meat in the name of Christ.
John Hillegass, MCC’s canning and trucking coordinator, says, “As the many meat canning committees and volunteers are working together on the mobile cannery, there isn’t usually a way to know where each can of meat will end up. But every can goes with their prayers, blessings and promises of hope to whomever receives it, near or far.”
MCC photo/Rudi Niessen
And those prayers, blessings and hope are needed now more than ever. As unemployment and economic hardship hit families across the U.S., MCC canned meat is providing a stable food source to those most at need. Those particularly at-risk include older adults and people of color living in urban areas where food security is already a challenge and there is a greater risk of contracting the virus.
“Here in the East Coast region of the U.S., we’ve been pleased to partner with churches and organizations—and particularly churches of color hit very hard by the virus— in providing food and other material resources in Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania, Florida and soon New York City,” says Bruce Campbell-Janz, MCC East Coast executive director.
"We know that communities marginalized at the best of times are now more vulnerable than ever."
- Bruce Campbell-Janz, MCC East Coast executive director
Fortunately, MCC canned meat was already pre-positioned on the island of Puerto Rico to respond to community members’ needs, particularly ones brought on by natural disasters. But what churches did not know was that these valuable resources would be needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic instead.
As curfews on the island limited people’s movement and helped slow the spread of the virus, local Anabaptist churches got creative as they set-up drive-through stations for their food distributions. The churches prepared food boxes that contained MCC canned meat and other groceries and hygiene items, and they spread the word to those in need throughout their communities. Supplies were loaded straight into the trunks of cars as volunteers respected social distancing guidelines.
"People can remember a word of encouragement—encouragement of peace—but they will never forget when someone fed their hunger…with any of the MCC resources packed by the volunteers. It can have a different impact on each person, but they will surely know that someone still thinks about their needs and that they are not abandoned," says Rolando Flores-Rentas, MCC East Coast’s Puerto Rico program coordinator.
MCC photo/Rudi Niessen
As pastors in the Philadelphia area began to anticipate the needs of their communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MCC and their partners decided to team up for an emergency food distribution.
In collaboration with the MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville and Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA), MCC helped to distribute 57 food boxes and 360 cans of meat to those most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chinemelu Oguekwe, MCC East Coast's Philadelphia program coordinator says, "The families and churches in Philadelphia are thankful for the food boxes and canned meat. These resources fill the economic gap vulnerable families experience in these difficult times. The items were mostly given to vulnerable families, including the elderly, and those who had lost their jobs because of COVID-19.”
MCC's Philadelphia program is also walking with local pastors and faith leaders in Kingdom Builders Network (KBN), engaging them in discussions online while providing a space to share resources and encouragement as they pray for each other during this time. KBN, an MCC partner, is a network of Anabaptist churches and ministries in Philadelphia.
OCCDA photo/Alfred Essandoh
In a few weeks, over 2,000 cans of meat will be distributed throughout Lancaster County in partnership with Meals on Wheels of Lancaster, Lancaster County Office of Aging, Mennonite Disaster Service and Lancaster Cares, a response fund from Lancaster County Community Foundation and United Way of Lancaster County.
Organized by Meals on Wheels, the organizations will provide five shelf-stable meals to 1,000 home-bound older adults during the COVID-19 crisis. The hope is that these vulnerable community members will have meals to eat even if they are unable to leave their homes. Staying home also helps to prevent further spreading of COVID-19 in this at-risk community.
Heart2Heart photo/Stefany Gallo
MCC collaborated with Heart2Heart Outreach of South Florida (Fort Lauderdale) and area churches to deliver 480 cans of meat and 500 hygiene kits to older adults in the community due to the coronavirus and the subsequent scarcity of resources.
Heart2Heart is a parachurch ministry that connects the needs of older adults to the church community. Their mission is to give hope, share love and restore purpose to the aging population.
The materials, housed at Riverside Church (North Lauderdale), were distributed through contact-free pick-up and delivery by church leaders and volunteers to older adults and vulnerable populations while following local health guidelines.
Heart2Heart photo/Stefany Gallo
In Tampa, MCC teamed up with Eastern District & Franconia Conference of Mennonite Church USA to send 1,440 cans of meat to the food pantry at College Hill Mennonite Church to support COVID-19 outreach.
The meat is a valuable resource amid increased unemployment and economic need created by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the closure of several food pantries in their local area. Described by the University of South Florida as a “food desert,” the coronavirus has only amplified these issues in the Tampa community.
“We are faced with our community dying from this disease [COVID-19] or from starvation. We all have agreed to work hard at striking a balance between these two polarities, while exercising safe and healthy practices under the watchful eyes of several city and county agencies and groups.”
- Roy Williams, Pastor of College Hill Mennonite Church
And the requests for MCC canned meat and other humanitarian aid supplies keep coming in as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact congregations and communities. MCC partner, the New York City Council of Mennonite Churches, will be receiving 1,200 cans of meat to distribute in their communities as well as 100 hygiene kits for displaced families and individuals living in shelters.
Hyacinth Stevens, MCC East Coast’s New York program coordinator says, “Those who are undocumented and marginalized at this time are less able to get the resources they need for basic human needs. A large portion of this population is now having to leave their places of residence and go into shelters. The traditional jobs that supported their families have been lost and they have no additional benefits to sustain their families.”
The items will be distributed throughout the Bronx, Upper Manhattan and Queens in collaboration with local Mennonite congregations and community-based food pantries.
“Faith based organizations have an opportunity to be a neighbor with the resources we have.”
- Hyacinth Stevens, MCC East Coast's New York program coordinator
In Queens, the resources will be distributed through the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association Food Pantry, a ministry of LMC congregation, Immanuel Community Church. The pantry primarily serves older adults and recently migrated immigrants from Asia. Using social distancing methods, the city has contracted cab drivers to distribute food from local pantries. Some food will be distributed through volunteer drivers to homes.
Stevens notes, “These resources will be available for those with most urgent needs and limited to no other means of support. These items alone will not change the recipient’s circumstances, but this aide will work in partnership with other resources. Together we hope that there will be an impact on the immediate need of those receiving the canned meat and hygiene kits.”
By providing urban Anabaptist churches emergency food assistance during this unprecedented time, MCC canned meat is playing an essential role in keeping vulnerable community members healthy. While COVID-19 affects all of us everywhere, MCC is responding to those most at-risk thanks to the generous meat canning committees and volunteers across the U.S. and Canada.
“Thank you for walking and sharing with us especially in this unprecedented time amidst the pandemic crisis," says Oguekwe. "We are thankful for supporters like you and pray for continued blessings for you and the work you do."
Donations to support the ongoing work of MCC, including its work in response to COVID-19, can be designated to “where needed most.” Also, local material resources centers continue to accept donations of kits, kit supplies and comforters.
While the rest of the 2019-2020 canning season was canceled due to COVID-19, MCC’s hope is to start back up again this fall for the 2020-2021 season. Learn more about MCC’s mobile meat canning project at mcc.org/canning.