Mennonite Central Committee begins its 73rd year of canning meat for people in crisis around the world Oct. 7. Volunteers have been participating in this project for almost three-quarters of the century MCC has existed.
In 2020 MCC will celebrate 100 years of service to people in need, and the canning program has been a constant part of helping fulfill this mission. During the 2018-19 fiscal year, MCC shipped more than 570,000 cans of meat to 10 countries, plus the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
Almost half of those cans of meat, each containing 24 ounces, were sent to Ethiopia to feed children at risk of malnutrition. They and their parents are refugees from South Sudan who have fled war in their home country.
This year’s four-member canning crew will coordinate the canning process at 32 locations across the U.S. and Canada from October through April. The men will drive the mobile cannery, where they will cook and seal the meat in cans, to each location where volunteers are prepared to help them.
More than 30,000 volunteers make the project possible by purchasing the meat and cutting it into chunks as well as filling, carrying and labeling the cans and packaging them for shipping — all in accordance with federal food safety regulations.
Yesterday and today
MCC meat canning fulfills a mandate to feed the hungry that is as old as the organization itself.
MCC was formed when representatives of various Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren groups met in July 1920 in Elkhart, Ind., and pledged to aid hungry people, including Mennonites in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine). The first feeding operations began March 16, 1922, at Khortitsa. MCC sent a shipment of 25 tractors and plows to southern Russia in June 1922.
In the 1940s, MCC, with the Brethren and Friends, administered the Civilian Public Service program for conscientious objectors to war. Some of the food for the CPS camps was home-canned by members of MCC’s supporting churches. The decision was made to send similar food to Europe after World War II, but the glass containers often broke on the difficult journey across the sea and war-torn continent.
Using metal containers instead required the use of special equipment. Rather than buying their own, communities in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in 1945 began transporting the equipment on a wagon between local canning sites. This idea eventually led to the construction of the first long-distance mobile cannery in Hesston, Kan., in 1946.
This year’s mobile cannery, the fourth and most modern version, will be managed by MCC’s experienced canners: Tristan Pries, from Loma Plata, Paraguay; Nathan Stoltzfus, from Narvon, Pa.; and Kendall Weaver, from Wooster, Ohio. The team will be completed with new canner Gabriel Eisenbeis, from Freeman, S.D.
They begin Oct. 7 in Sterling, Ohio, at Harvest Call, an Apostolic Christian organization, followed by Central Christian School in Kidron, Ohio, on Oct. 12. The season will end in late April in Elmira and Leamington, Ont.