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Mobile Factory Cans Meat For The Poor
“To my knowledge this is the only mobile cannery in the world,” says John Hillegass about the mini mobile factory he manages that travels across the country canning meat that’s donated to the poor.
  Hillegass is Canning Coordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a ministry of Anabaptist churches including Mennonites, Amish and Brethren in Christ congregations.
  Much of the canned meat – mostly turkey – goes to developing countries where it’s distributed through MCC partners to orphanages, schools and others affected by natural disasters. Thanks to thousands of volunteers, the cost per 2-lb. can (including shipping) is just $3.70 to $3.80. It’s a welcome and important addition for people who live on mostly grains and vegetables.
  The ministry started in 1946 in Hesston, Kan., when Mennonites built a mobile canner to can beef to send to European refugees during WWII. The canner traveled around surrounding states until 1952, when it was donated to the MCC so that other Anabaptist communities could be involved. The current mobile cannery is the third unit and was built in 1993. It has six pressure cookers that hold about 140 cans/each. It’s capable of canning 10,500 lbs. of meat/day with a full crew of volunteers.
  Four men in two crews volunteer for two years to manage the mobile cannery. They recently completed their latest run from Oct. 8 to May 2, traveling to 33 locations in 14 states from Kansas to New York and across Canada. At each site, volunteers were ready with meat and supplies valued at $15,000 to $16,000/day, for canning sessions that last from 2 to 8 days.
  “Most of the meat comes in big 2,000-lb. combo bins, like whole turkey thighs,” Hillegass explains. “At some locations it’s cut up into chunks if we have the help. If not, we use a mechanical grinder. We need a minimum of 30 to 35 people, but can use up to 400 people a day if cutting by hand.”
  The meat is purchased from federally inspected facilities and the mobile cannery operates under USDA inspection. At each site, the mobile unit folds open on the sides and is parked next to a building set up for the prep work. Volunteers partially cook the meat, put it in cans, and wash, label and box the processed meat. The trained canner operators seal the cans and operate the pressure cookers.
  It’s not difficult to find places to send the more than half million cans each year. Many were sent to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and some of the meat stayed in the states to feed victims of Hurricane Katrina.
  “The need is there, and the volunteers are willing,” Hillegass says. “We’ll do this as long as we can meet all the federal regulations.”
  He added that the canning schedule is full, so no more sites can be added. People who would like to help can contribute cash, help at the scheduled sites, and pray for the ministry, he says.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, John Hillegass, Mennonite Central Committee, P.O. Box 500, Akron, Penn. 17501 (ph 888 563-4676; canning.mcc.org).

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2013 - Volume #37, Issue #3