As Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) begins its 2022-2023 meat canning season, the need for food in Ukraine and other countries around the world is growing.
In Ukraine, millions of people have been displaced, and many are without access to food, water and healthcare since the Russian military invaded in February.
This summer, MCC’s Ukrainian partner organizations distributed the first shipment of meat to people affected by the invasion. A second shipment is scheduled for November.
In January and February of 2023, a third shipment is planned, using turkey or chicken that will be canned this fall, says Tom Wenger, MCC’s Material Resources coordinator. Each shipment contains between 50,000 to 70,000 24-ounce cans of turkey or chicken.
In the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, Sasha*, a father of five children, lost his job due to Russia’s military invasion. Both Sasha and his wife have disabilities, which create additional challenges for them.
Sasha, left, and Natasha, pictured with four of their five children in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, received MCC canned meat this summer. Photo courtesy of All-Ukraine Platform for Health Improvement of Society.
“Therefore, life has become more difficult now,” according to a message they relayed to MCC through its partner All-Ukraine Platform for Health Improvement of Society (KECB).
“We can’t afford meat. But owing to you, we have a supply of stew and can feed the children. This is a great support for our family. Thank you for your help.”
Last year, MCC also sent meat to Burundi, Ethiopia, Cuba, Burkina Faso, Haiti and Zambia, where war, political unrest and poverty cause people to lose their jobs, homes and safety.
MCC is able to send meat to people in crisis because every year thousands of volunteers across the U.S. and Ontario purchase meat, preserve it in cans and prepare it for shipping.
This year’s canning season began on Oct. 3 in Sterling, Ohio, and will continue through April 27, 2023, in Leamington, Ontario. During that time, an MCC canning crew will transport the mobile cannery to 31 locations.
This year’s crew consists of Han Erb of Dundee, Ohio; Kyle Keeler of Corry, Pennsylvania; Caleb Moss of Rock City, Illinois; Sylvan Stoltzfus of Narvon, Pennsylvania; and Emery Yoder of Wilmot, Ohio.
Three of MCC’s 2022-2023 canning crew are (left to right) Sylvan Stoltzfus of Narvon, Pennsylvania, Kyle Keeler of Corry, Pennsylvania, and Han Erb of Dundee, Ohio. Crew members not pictured are Emery Yoder of Wilmot, Ohio, and Caleb Moss of Rock City, Illinois. MCC photo/Brenda Burkholder.
When the canning crew arrives at each site, a local committee will have organized volunteers and supplies for several days of work. The crew works with the volunteers at each site to make sure the meat is canned according to the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Joe Miller, canning associate for MCC U.S., says, “MCC’s meat canning is a roll-up-your-sleeves ministry. It is amazing and thrilling to be a part of a local community of Mennonites and Amish coming together, working hard and producing food for hungry people.”
Not only is the meat good for people around the world, the service activity can be fulfilling for the volunteers, according to Keith Zehr, pastor of Lowville (New York) Mennonite Church.
He sought out MCC staff last year to say, “We needed this event. It was so life-giving for our churches and even non-Anabaptist neighbors to work together to help hungry people around the world.”
Miller says he hopes this season will be more productive than last year as people are adapting to life with COVID-19.
In the last two years, MCC needed to reduce the number of locations for safety purposes, but last year volunteers still canned 353,946 cans of meat. This year, the cannery will return to all the locations that were used before the pandemic.
Volunteers Liz Yocum (left) and Karie Zeager work on the meat canning line inside MCC’s mobile cannery at the Cumberland Valley Relief Center in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 2016. MCC photo/Matthew Lester.
The local canning committees, who buy the meat they process, must still deal with high prices of meat that increased significantly last year.
In October 2021, the price of turkey was high and chicken thigh meat was double what it was the year before. This fall chicken is less expensive than last year, but turkey will remain high for the season.
Even so, Miller anticipates a fruitful year.
“Canning committees have a very strong commitment to canning meat for hungry people,” Miller says. “We anticipate the canning committees will meet this challenge again this year.”
In addition to shipping meat around the world, a significant portion of the meat also went to families in the U.S. Each of the 31 canning locations may keep 10% of the canned meat for their local community food banks.
Back in Ukraine, canned meat was helpful to Anastasia* and her husband and newborn baby.
Anastasia* was eight months pregnant when Russian soldiers came to her family’s home in the Zaporizhzhia region. She was forced to flee with her husband and eldest daughter. To leave the region, they were obligated to give the soldiers all their savings.
It took them five days to arrive in Borisovka, Ukraine, where they were able to obtain housing, and Anastasia soon gave birth to a son. MCC’s partner, New Life Charitable Foundation, provided the family canned meat, comforters, hygiene supplies and other items.
Parents of another family with nine children sent their thanks through KECB.
In the Kharkiv Region of Ukraine, MCC’s canned meat will help nourish this family, whose father lost his job because of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. The family has nine children and two parents in total. Photo courtesy of All-Ukraine Platform for Health Improvement of Society.
“A thousand thanks for the stewed meat. The father of our family lost his job because of the war, so we cannot buy fresh meat, and your help is a great support for us. Thank you. May God bless you.”
* Last names of Ukrainians are omitted throughout this article for security reasons.
Written by Laura Miller, an MCC U.S. freelancer from Arlington, Kansas.