By Naomy Snider
HENDERSON — A white, mobile cannery arrived early Monday morning at dawn in the Bethesda Mennonite church parking lot. Each year, the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) Mobile Meat Canner makes a stop in Henderson, where community members help prepare cans of meat that will be distributed around the world to families in need.
This year’s canning season kicked off on October 3 in Sterling, Ohio. The final stop is in Leamington, Ontario on April 27th.
Boxing Coordinator Jay Dee Janzen of Henderson has been helping with the boxing process for nearly 40 years. As a teenager, Janzen recalls stacking and canning corned beef. He and his friends built “fortresses” out of boxes, of course when the adults weren’t watching.
Janzen said, “This is my favorite project that we do. I believe in what it represents. Food is universal, what better way to show the love of Christ than canning meat for the hungry?
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While it’s laborious, Janzen said it’s worth it. This year’s goal for the Bethesda church is to can 25,000 pounds of meat.
After the mobile cannery arrived, the Henderson community volunteers immediately got to work at six in the morning. The chicken thighs were encased in 40-pound boxes with ice, ready to be hand-sliced and placed in a grinder by volunteers.
The oldest volunteer there, RaGene Ratzlaff, 88, said: ‘I can’t remember how many years I’ve been doing this. There are too many to count, but years ago the meat was butchered on a farm and there was no refrigeration. Back then we had to cut the meat off the bone ourselves.
While that first step has changed, the rest of the tedious process remains the same. After the meat has passed through the mincer, it is loaded onto the mobile canner and emptied into a steam kettle. Two volunteers pour in the salt, which is the only added ingredient, and mix the meat until it reaches 40 degrees.
After the meat reached the perfect temperature, the volunteer put the meat into jars, each weighing 1.92 to 1.97 pounds. The cans are then placed in a sealing machine. From the machine, cans are loaded into baskets and into a huge pressurized cooker operated by canning operators Sylvan Stoltzfus and Kyle Keeler of Pennsylvania.
The meat is cooked for 2 1/2 hours at 246 degrees. After the processing stage, the cans are chilled until safe to handle and hand wash. Volunteers remove any remaining meat residue. The final step is applying a glossy green label that indicates what is in the can.
Janzen previously mentioned that they have canned turkey and beef. Since October last year, the price of turkey has increased and the price of chicken has doubled. As turkey remains high this season, MCC opted for chicken because “it’s cheaper and it’s a widely acceptable meat,” Janzen said.
Janzen said it would take at least three days to complete the canning process, with the plan to box £10,000 the first two days and £5,000 the third day.
According to mcc.org, 491,940 pounds of meat were canned and shipped to Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cuba, Ethiopia, Haiti, Zambia, Ukraine and the United States, including Puerto Rico.
In a story written by MCC staff, MCC corned beef and relief kits were the first supplies from anywhere to reach Saint-Jean-de-Sud in southwestern Haiti after an earthquake hit on 18 August. 14 or last year.
“Thank you for not leaving us alone,” a woman told Paul Shetler Fast, MCC health coordinator in Haiti. “We have felt very alone these past few days waiting after the earthquake, hoping someone will come, hoping someone won’t forget about us”.
This year’s canned food will go to Ukraine, where many have lost access to food, water and healthcare since the war with Russia began in February.
Janzen said 10 percent of the corned beef remains locally at York’s Living Water Rescue Mission and Lincoln Food Bank. Janzen and the Henderson community are excited to continue the tradition of sharing God’s love, one at a time.