Canned meat for ‘humble people in need’

Puerto Rican churches serve the homeless

Nov 25, 2019 by and

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Mennonite Central Committee mobile meat canner operator Tristan Pries had to fight back tears.

“We were helping the homeless people with the food,” he said. “I learned to appreciate what I have. That I have enough. And I really thank God for the blessings he has given to me and for the talents I have.”

Canners Gabriel Eisenbeis, Kendall Weaver and Tristan Pries wrap meals for people who are homeless. They distributed the meals in a park near Summit Hills Mennonite Church in San Juan, Puerto Rico. — Diana Voth/MCC

Canners Gabriel Eisenbeis, Kendall Weaver and Tristan Pries wrap meals for people who are homeless. They distributed the meals in a park near Summit Hills Mennonite Church in San Juan, Puerto Rico. — Diana Voth/MCC

Pries, from Loma Plata, Para­guay, along with fellow canners Gabriel Eisenbeis of Freeman, S.D., and Kendall Weaver of Wooster, Ohio, traveled to Puerto Rico in September as part of a learning tour for the MCC mobile meat canning staff.

These tours, led by canning and trucking manager John Hillegass, give canners a glimpse into the impact canned meat has in communities around the world. This year’s tour highlighted canned meat shipments to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The tour included distributing prepared food with MCC-canned meat to people without homes. The distribution, which took place in a park in San Juan, is an outreach of Iglesia Evan­gélica Menonita de Summit Hills.

In the pouring rain, those in need of a hot meal gathered under tents to stay dry. They exchanged stories with church volunteers and the canning crew while they waited for food to be ready.

Every other month the church goes into the community to reach out to those who are homeless. Sometimes they serve canned meat, cooked Puerto Rican-style, adding white rice, fried plantains and salad. Many church members get involved.

“This is a church that has very few members, but this church does a lot,” said Summit Hills parishioner Carmen B. Vélez. “We don’t need to have a lot of members to do the job that has to be done.”

With limited services for those who are homeless in Puerto Rico, many people end up on the streets. Some are fighting drug or alcohol abuse or are living with mental illness. Others lost their homes due to Hurricane Maria.

“There’s a lot of humble people in need,” Vélez said. “They have no home, they just sleep in the streets, or they lost their homes some way, somehow, and now they prefer to live on the streets. Or they get used to living in the streets and decided to stay there. Also, the problem with drugs makes them stay there. Sometimes the family just throws them out. It’s the same as in the States. But it’s sad to see.”

The church sees the outreach as a way to spread the gospel.

“The idea with the canned meat is to provide something else to the church that they [can use to] help the community and then evangelize,” said MCC Puerto Rico program coordinator Rolando Flores, also pastor of Summit Hills.

Several Mennonite congregations across the island do similar homeless outreach programs. Many use MCC canned meat.

“I don’t like our church to be known that it has money or that it has a lot of help,” Vélez said. “I like people to know the church by saying, ‘That’s the church that brought me what I needed.’ ”


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