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MCC canners are (left to right) Jason Unruh, Ryun Lawrence and David Bricker. Josh Voth and Loren Yoder (not pictured) will share the duties of a fourth canner position. (MCC Photo/Brenda Burkholder)

MCC canners are (left to right) Jason Unruh, Ryun Lawrence and David Bricker. Josh Voth and Loren Yoder (not pictured) will share the duties of a fourth canner position. (MCC Photo/Brenda Burkholder)

MCC canning crew learn, share from Haiti trip

Ed Nyce
October 21, 2011

AKRON, Pa. – During a late-summer visit to Haiti, Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) meat canning crew saw the three time-honored priorities of MCC’s work – relief, development and peace – in action.

The trip preceded the start of the 2011-2012 canning season, the 65th annual season, during which the canning crew and thousands of volunteers will fill more than half a million cans with meat between October and early May.

MCC distributes the cans of meat to communities impacted by war, disaster and malnutrition. More than 150,000 cans were sent to Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the nation’s capital.

The canning crew’s trip to Haiti allowed the members to visit some of the places where the meat was distributed and meet some of the people who benefited ‑ inspiring the canners for the upcoming season.

“It’s important to make a connection between the canning volunteers and the recipients,” said John Hillegass, meat canning coordinator. “The personal experiences the canners bring back help volunteers realize how powerful their contribution to the effort of canning is.”

In addition to informal conversation, canners will talk about these experiences with volunteers during breaks on canning days. They also speak in churches when possible.

Meat canner Ryun Lawrence, of Goessel, Kan., said that remembering the Haitians he met who directly benefitted from the work of the volunteers and the canners helped to motivate him as he begins his third year with the crew.

At TIMKATEC, an MCC partner that prepares orphans and very poor children to work in various trades, Lawrence observed relief and development going hand in hand. The school, which normally has around 200 students, ages 10-14, expanded for three months after the earthquake to provide daily meals for 500 children, including those from the neighborhood.

“The meat, health kits and comforters help the school do what they need to do without MCC running the programs for them,” Lawrence said. Here and elsewhere in Haiti, MCC serves in a facilitation role, with Haitians doing the actual building of programs they value, in this case education.

The crew also visited other schools and a reforestation project where MCC is supporting Haitians who are developing their educational and natural resources.

Peacemaking in Haiti revolves around addressing issues of injustice, both past and present, the men learned.

Nixon Boumba, of Pacot, Haiti, a former MCC Haiti staff member and a current postgraduate student, explained the historical reasons why Haiti is in a vulnerable position, said Jason Unruh, of Peabody, Kan., who is beginning his first year as a canner. Some issues arise from within Haiti. Others come as a result of outside corporations or other nations whose own interests are not always compatible with a healthy Haiti.

In order to effectively deal with human need, “We need to address its causes,” said Lawrence at an MCC commissioning service for the canners in early October outside MCC’s Akron, Pa, office.

The crew has begun traveling with the 42-foot mobile canner where the meat is cooked and prepared for packaging. They oversee the process, making sure that it adheres to standards set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and United States Department of Agriculture.

The crew works in the home communities of thousands of people who volunteer to help procure meat, prepare the site and can meat at 32 sites in two Canadian provinces and 13 U.S. states this year. Last season, more than 525,000 cans of turkey, pork or beef went to 16 countries, including Canada and the U.S.

Lawrence, Unruh and David Bricker of Chambersburg, Pa., are members of this year’s canning crew. The canners travel together, each serving at least one two-year term. They spend seven months on the road and, in the off-season, maintain the canner and complete other work for MCC. This year, Josh Voth, Goessel, Kan., and Loren Yoder, Belleville, Pa., will share the duties of a fourth canner position.

More information about MCC’s meat canning initiative is available at Persons wishing to explore service opportunities with MCC can learn more at

Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ