Three young men from Marion County joined the Pennsylvania- based Mennonite Central Committee meat canning crew in October for the 2011-12 season. Members of a six-man crew including Jason Unruh of Peabody and Ryun Lawrence and Josh Voth, both of Goessel, stopped in North Newton for the first week of November. Many local church members and volunteers joined them there to help process meat for distribution to poor people around the world.
The meat-canner crew travels across eastern, central, and mid-western states, even into Canada, as part of a mission network which strives to provide sustenance and hope for poor people around the world.
“My boss said we do more than just can meat,” said Unruh. “Those cans are used to enable something much more than just fill an empty stomach. They give people hope. They provide stepping stones to better education, better health, and a better way of life.”
Last year the MCC canning crew produced 525,000 cans of turkey, pork, or beef and sent it to 16 countries.
At each stop, scheduled volunteers come in to speed up the process by helping cut meat, fill and dry cans, and apply labels. Hillsboro area churches participated at the North Newton center on Monday and Tuesday.
“One thing I enjoy about this is just seeing all the smiles and enthusiasm that people have when they come out to help,” Lawrence said. “We start early in the morning, around 5 a.m., and people come in happy and ready to work.”
The work usually takes place in two shifts. Jobs for volunteers include cutting up meat and filling the cans.
“We do have a meat processor to use when there aren’t enough volunteers,” Unruh said. “But we really prefer to work with the hand cut meat because it doesn’t get as stringy and separates into chunks better.”
The men on the canning crew are responsible for the actual canning process, which is done in six, large, barrel-type vats. These vats are placed under steam pressure and heated to 246 degrees for more than two hours.
After the meat has been cooked, volunteers dry the cans and place labels on them.
“We work with up to 200 to 300 people per day,” Voth said. “Of course, these are divided up into shifts, but we can always find something for everyone to do. We appreciated the volunteers so much.”
After long hours spent in the canning trailer, the crew looks forward to visiting area churches to meet people and see the sights.
They usually spend the night with Mennonite families on their route but indicated working close to home was a nice benefit this week.
“Probably the biggest adjustment is being on the road all the time,” Unruh said. “Getting to sleep at home this week is a big plus.”
Voth, who has worked for MCC in a variety of positions since 2007, said joining the meat canning crew was a great way to see the country and meet other people with the same background.
“There are never any bad stops,” he said. “I would definitely recommend this type of service to any other young man who is looking for something to do after high school or college.”
Young men must be 18 years or older to be considered for this type of service position.
“I joined because I felt it was important for me to put in action my faith,” Unruh said. “My other family members have been involved in voluntary service and I wanted to do my part.”
Each team member gets the opportunity to travel to a country where MCC meat cans are distributed as part of their job orientation. This September, Unruh went to Haiti to experience first-hand the distribution of the canned meat.
“It was an incredible experience to meet the people who benefit from this work,” he said. “It gives a much broader picture of the whole project.”
Voth said he was inspired by the Bible verse from Matthew 25:35 to 36.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,” the passage said. “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit.”
“That verse just really sticks with me,” he said. “I don’t really know what my future holds, but right now I enjoy doing this and it feels good to know I am helping someone somewhere else have a better life.”
When their canning terms are over, Unruh and Voth dream of returning to Marion County to farm or work in agriculture. Lawrence hopes to find work as a cook or a photographer.