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MCC canners are (left to right) George Wieler, Jr., Peter Reimer, Steven Bricker, Ryun Lawrence.  Brenda Burkholder

MCC canners are (left to right) George Wieler, Jr., Peter Reimer, Steven Bricker, Ryun Lawrence. Brenda Burkholder

Canners begin 2009-2010 season

Ed Nyce
October 7, 2009


AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee's (MCC's) annual mobile meat canning project, an initiative that provides meat to communities impacted by war, disaster and malnutrition, begins this month and continues through April.

Thousands of volunteers in two Canadian provinces and 13 U.S. states prepare and package more than half a million cans of meat each year. Last season, 566,984 cans were filled with turkey, pork or beef and sent to 15 countries.

Canned meat provides a substantial protein source to people who are poor or on the brink of poverty. Ten to 15 people can be fed with the contents of one 28-ounce can.

Each year, a four-member meat canning crew travels to the various canning sites – 31 this year – overseeing operations from early morning until night. They set up the canner, a 42-foot long trailer, where the meat is cooked and prepared to sanitary standards. Volunteers provide the bulk of the labor on canning days.

Members of this year's canning crew are Steven Bricker of Chambersburg, Pa.; Ryun Lawrence of Goessel, Kan.; Peter Reimer of Tolstoi, Man.; and George Wieler, Jr., of Wheatley, Ont. Canning crew members commit to two-year terms, spending seven months on the road and, in the off-season, maintaining the canner and doing other duties for MCC.

Long before the canning crew arrives, the local volunteers in the host communities are raising funds to cover the cost of canning, which can approach $18,000 a day. Costs include federally-inspected raw meat as well as packaging, processing and material costs, such as cans, boxes and lids. Shipping and local on-site expenses are also covered by the host community.

Local volunteers clean the site thoroughly, preparing it for the work that typically lasts two to five days. When the canner is there, volunteers cut meat, put it in pots, stir it and wash cans. Then they label and box the filled cans.

Canning crew members find their way to MCC in a wide variety of ways.

Wieler knew about the canning operation from attending MCC fundraisers while growing up in Ontario and long had interest in being a crew member someday. Lawrence, on the other hand, heard about the canner less than two weeks before he applied to be on the crew, and was soon invited to the assignment.

Their reasons for applying, however, were similar. Wieler decided to "get out of my comfort zone, see what God has for me on this [assignment]," and became part of the crew.

Lawrence said, "I was attracted by the challenge of a two-year commitment of going out on the road and of stepping out of my element."

Bricker and Reimer, who were part of the team last year, like the way canning helps many Anabaptists cooperate in a practical way for MCC. Bricker said, "I was struck by the vast number of dedicated people it takes to pull the whole program off, and that it is such a diverse group of Anabaptist churches working together."

Collaborating on this project, Reimer added, "gives the people who are donating the money to MCC a hands-on way to work with MCC." Volunteering in his community at canner time in years past, “helped me to identify with MCC," he said.

Bricker and Reimer were surprised during their travels last year by how many people were unaware of the history and current work of the canner. They know of a way to remedy that.

"Take a day, come check it out," says Reimer.

"Come and help us out," agrees Bricker.

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