Gerald Heimpel, Toby Penner, Andrew Keeler and Stanley Toews will work on the MCC Mobile Meat Canner this year, starting Oct. 8.
MCC photo by James Wheeler

Gerald Heimpel, Toby Penner, Andrew Keeler and Stanley Toews will work on the MCC Mobile Meat Canner this year, starting Oct. 8.

WINNIPEG, Man. — The four volunteers working on the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) mobile meat canner quickly develop a community while they travel across the U.S. and Canada, preparing canned meat to be sent around the world.  

But Andrew Keeler, one of this year’s canners, says his role in processing the meat only gave him one side of the picture. “When we’re canning we can really feel the community aspect of everyone there,” he says, “but at the same time we don’t know how it looks when the can’s being opened and what kind of support it is providing for communities.”

In September, Keeler finally got to meet the people at the other end of the chain on a trip to El Salvador and Guatemala. Three of the canners visited Central America to meet those who use the meat, and even sample some recipes.

As Stanley Toews packs cans of meat this year he will remember a visit to Finca Canaán coffee farm in San Martín, El Salvador. The women there prepared a variety of recipes they developed using canned meat, including pupusas, lasagna and stuffed peppers. “The first time when they received meat they didn’t know how to use it,” Toews says, “they had to invent their own recipes and they showed them to us and we could taste them, it was good.”

At Asociacion nuevo Amanecer de Santiago Atitlan (ANADESA) in Guatemala, women receive canned meat for participating in classes such as nutrition, craft making or business. They also give cans to children in after school programs. Keeler appreciates that the meat is used alongside programs to help families achieve long-term success.

“It was neat to see how the projects used the meat and other resources to enhance the community,”
 he says, “it’s not just handed out and forgotten.”

Every two years the canners visit projects where the meat they package is used. “It is important for the canners to see the fruit of their labors and to witness where canned meat goes and who it helps,” says John Hillegass, MCC’s canning coordinator.

Canners also return from the trip with stories to tell the thousands of volunteers who help throughout the season, providing a bridge between the meat they can and those who eat it.  

Andrew Keeler, Toby Penner, Stanley Toews and Gerald Heimpel began this year’s canning season on October 8 in Sterling, Ohio. To see if the mobile canner will visit your city, check the schedule at http://canning.mcc.org/schedule.

Emily Loewen is staff writer for MCC Canada.