AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee is operating a brand new mobile cannery as it begins the 2015-2016 season of canning meat for people in crisis throughout the world.
This mobile cannery, the first new equipment since 1993, was rolled out at two dedication services – Aug. 28 in North Newton, Kan., and on Sept. 18 in Ephrata, Pa.
The new equipment streamlines the meat preparation process and computerizes boiler and steam controls. Thousands of volunteers in Canada and the U.S. are still actively involved in collecting, preparing and packaging the meat in cans for shipping.
Canning season begins in October and continues through April. A four-member canning crew of MCC workers travels with the mobile cannery to 31 sites in 12 U.S. states and one Canadian province this year. They coordinate the canning process at each location to make sure federal food safety regulations are met.
The crew and volunteers fill more than half a million cans of meat each year to provide nourishment to communities impacted by war, disaster and malnutrition.
Last season, 516,000 cans of turkey, pork, chicken or beef went to 10 countries, including Canada and the U.S. In July, the crew and volunteers at Mennonite World Conference’s “Assembly Gathered” in Harrisburg, Pa, canned green beans. The beans were distributed in central Pennsylvania.
The new mobile cannery is similar to previous canners in appearance. “We want people to know that it’s MCC’s mobile cannery coming when they see it,” said John Hillegass, canning and trucking manager for MCC U.S.
New features include adding salt to each can of meat individually instead of to a large kettle of meat, and computerized boiler and steam controls that assure the meat is heated precisely in one process. Volunteers, therefore, will no longer need to preheat and stir meat.
Through the years
In the mid to late 1940s, a mobile cannery began operating as an initiative of a relief committee in Kansas to address World War II-related hunger. Run initially by South Central Conference of The Mennonite Church, much of the meat was donated to MCC. The mobile cannery was transferred in 1952, along with $2,500 in the operating fund, to MCC.
John Hostetler of Ephrata, Pa., remembers the first mobile cannery. Part of his job as MCC’s material aid director, a job he took in June 1959, included overseeing the meat canning operation.
“It was a 28-foot trailer, and there were no sleepers in the truck,” he said of that first canner. More than the specifics of the mobile cannery, though, the impact of the program remains with Hostetler. In addition to meeting physical needs of people in other countries, the canning project helped people feel connected and involved with the work of MCC.
Current and former canner operators celebrated the new mobile cannery in Ephrata, Pa. They include, first row left to right: Andrew Keeler, Toby Penner, Stanley Toews, David Hochstetler, Raynor Krahn, Matthew Blosser and Claudio Regier. Second row left to right: Rudi Niessen, Anthony Beery, Fred Berg, Tim Friesen, Aaron Yoder, John Hillegass, Josh Voth, Steven Bricker and George Wieler. Third row left to right: Daryl Mack, Ross Weber, Charles Eberly, Bruce Janzen, Gary Reimer, Don Lloyd and Don Lehman. David Bricker and Jerry Brenneman are not pictured but attended. (MCC Photo/Brenda Burkholder)
Through meat canning, said Hostetler, he and colleagues met people across the church they otherwise would never have known. “That was inspiring!” he said. “I’d come back [to Akron] with more enthusiasm, like they had.”
Hostetler was director in 1973 when the second mobile cannery began operating, but retired two years before the third mobile cannery began operated in 1993.
Meat canning today
Raynor Krahn knows what it is like to be inspired by hardworking meat canning volunteers. Krahn, of Para Todo, Paraguay, begins his second season on the canning crew this fall. Krahn was impressed last year as – at one canning location after another – people from churches and others in the community came together to work.
Other members of this year’s canning crew are Matthew Blosser of Goshen, Ind.; David Hochstetler of Shickley, Neb.; and Claudio Regier of Neuland, Paraguay. Crew members commit to two-year terms, spending seven months on the road and, in the off-season, maintaining the equipment and doing other duties for MCC.
MCC’s 2015-2016 meat canning crew includes, from left: David Hochstetler of Shickley, Neb; Claudio Regier of Neuland, Paraguay; Matthew Blosser of Goshen, Ind.; and Raynor Krahn of Para Todo, Paraguay. (MCC Photo/Brenda Burkholder)
“God gives us a mission on this earth to serve him,” said Krahn. For Krahn and thousands of volunteers, canning meat is one way to do so.
To learn more about MCC’s meat canning, including volunteer opportunities, visit mcc.org/canning.