With a new trailer, annual MCC meat canning tour begins

Volunteers fill more than 500,000 cans each year

Oct 12, 2015 by and

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AKRON, Pa. — Mennonite Central Committee is operating a brand new mobile cannery as it begins the 2015-16 season of canning meat for people in crisis around the world.

MCC’s new mobile cannery looks similar to the last model but has upgraded computer equipment that helps streamline the process. — Paul Manickam/MCC

MCC’s new mobile cannery looks similar to the last model but has upgraded computer equipment that helps streamline the process. — Paul Manickam/MCC

This mobile cannery, the first new equipment since 1993, was rolled out at two dedication services — Aug. 28 in North Newton, Kan., and Sept. 18 in Ephrata.

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 people 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 in Harrisburg 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 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 former 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 remembers the first mobile cannery. In 1959 he took a job as MCC’s material aid director and oversaw the meat canning operation.

“It was a 28-foot trailer, and there were no sleepers in the truck,” he said of that first canner.

The program’s impact remains with Hostetler. In addition to meeting needs of people in other countries, the canning project helped people feel involved with MCC’s work.

Through meat canning, Hos­tet­ler said, he and colleagues met people across the church they 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 came along in 1993.

Meat canning today

Raynor Krahn of Para Todo, Paraguay, begins his second season on the canning crew this fall. 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.

“God gives us a mission on this Earth to serve him,” Krahn said. For Krahn and thousands of volunteers, canning meat is one way to do so.

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