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In response to pandemic, MCC distributes canned meat across United States

6.1. 2020 Written By: Diana Voth, Mennonite Central Committee

Photo: On April 16, staff and volunteers of Heart2Heart in southern Florida sort MCC humanitarian aid supplies and get them ready for distribution to older adults in the community. Heart2Heart photo/Stefany Gallo

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. is supporting Anabaptist churches and partner organizations by providing canned meat for distribution to people in crisis.

Unemployment and economic hardship have hit families across the country, especially among people who were already vulnerable economically. In cities, the needs of older adults and people of color have become more pronounced with increased food security challenges and with a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus in urban areas.

Pastor Juan Marrero of Christ Centered Church picks up his church’s portion of food from Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association on March 25. OCCCDA photo/Alfred Essandoh

“Here in the East Coast region of the U.S., we’ve been pleased to partner with churches and organizations — and particularly churches of color hit very hard by the virus — in providing food and other material resources,” says Bruce Campbell-Janz, MCC East Coast executive director.

“We know that communities marginalized at the best of times are now more vulnerable than ever.”

Every year, more than 30,000 people in the United States and Canada volunteer their time to preserve meat in cans using MCC’s mobile cannery. Four volunteer staff members travel with the cannery and oversee the production, approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The majority of the 600,000 cans preserved each year are sent overseas, but some are used in Canada and the United States.

Because of the urgent needs caused by the coronavirus, this year MCC U.S. has distributed about 10,000 cans of meat in the United States, including Fresno County, California; Northfork, West Virginia; Harlan, Kentucky; and multiple locations on the East Coast.

In Puerto Rico, MCC canned meat was already prepositioned to respond to natural disasters. Now these resources are being used to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic instead.

Local Anabaptist churches alerted people in need throughout the community and set up drive-through stations to distribute food boxes that contained MCC canned meat. Volunteers loaded the food supplies straight into the car trunks while respecting social distancing guidelines.

“People can remember a word of encouragement, but they will never forget when someone fed their hunger,” says Rolando Flores-Rentas, MCC East Coast’s Puerto Rico program coordinator. “They will surely know that someone still thinks about their needs, and that they are not abandoned.”

Marcia Yoder weighs meat during canning inside the MCC mobile cannery at the Cumberland Valley Relief Center in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 2016. MCC Photo/Matthew Lester

In Pennsylvania, MCC provided canned meat as a resource for Meals on Wheels in Lancaster County and to churches in northeast Philadelphia.

Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association in Philadelphia distributed 57 boxes of food and 360 cans of meat to local churches. They used the food as part of their ministry to people in their community most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These resources fill the economic gap vulnerable families experience in these difficult times,” says Chinemelu Oguekwe, MCC East Coast’s Philadelphia program coordinator.

In low-income urban areas of Tampa, Florida, described recently as a “food desert” by the University of Southern Florida, 1,440 cans of meat were available at the College Hill Mennonite Church food pantry. Eastern District and Franconia Conference of Mennonite Church USA helped get the food there.

Fresh, affordable and nutritious food is hard to find in the area where College Hill is located. People who live there have been affected by high unemployment rates, creating even more economic need due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, several local food pantries have closed.

On the opposite side of the state, MCC collaborated with area churches in Fort Lauderdale to help older adults through the distribution of 480 cans of meat and 500 hygiene kits using contact-free pick-up and delivery volunteers.

New York City Council of Mennonite Churches will distribute 1,200 cans of meat and 100 hygiene kits to displaced families and individuals living in shelters throughout the Bronx, Upper Manhattan and Queens.

“Those who are undocumented and marginalized at this time are less able to get the resources they need for basic human needs,” says Hyacinth Stevens, MCC East Coast’s New York program coordinator. “A large portion of this population is now having to leave their places of residence and go into shelters. The traditional jobs that supported their families have been lost and they have no additional benefits to sustain their families.”

In Queens, cab drivers contracted by the city and volunteer drivers deliver canned meat and other food to homes of Asian immigrants Murray Hill Neighborhood Association Food Pantry, a ministry of Immanuel Community Church.

By providing emergency food assistance during this unprecedented time, MCC canned meat is keeping vulnerable community members fed. This is thanks to the generous meat canning committees and volunteers across the United States and Canada.

“As the many meat canning committees and volunteers are working together on the mobile cannery, there isn’t usually a way to know where each can of meat will end up,” says John Hillegass, MCC’s canning and trucking coordinator. “But every can goes with their prayers, blessings and promises of hope to whomever receives it, near or far.”

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