HENDERSON – More than 100 volunteers from both Mennonite churches in Henderson took Thanksgiving turkey to places it’s never been before Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Mennonite Central Committee’s canner-on-wheels made its annual visit to Henderson where three workdays that began at 5:30 a.m. and didn’t end until 10 p.m. resulted in 15,000, 2-pound tins of ground, cooked and canned boneless turkey thighs being filled and packed to help feed a hungry world.
Volunteers ranging from a first-grader to a fellow north of 90 years old went about their business in shifts to keep the turkey disassembly line moving.
Brent Swartzendruber, ramrod of the operation, said nearly 30,000 pounds of lean, protein-rich boneless turkey thighs were purchased from a company in Iowa. The two churches don’t just donate muscle and time, they are generous with their monetary resources, too.
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Swartzendruber said total cost, including transportation to the food’s end destination, sets Henderson Mennonites back some $60,000 from their own pockets.
Ten percent of the total is retained locally and shared with Grace Children’s Home in Henderson, Living Water Rescue Mission in York and the Lincoln Food Bank.
The flatbed in which the massive canner is transported and used is an extremely hot, steamy environment. One in which some volunteers have been overcome and forced to leave.
In regions of the world where no protein is present in what little food there is for people to eat, Swartzendruber said it’s not uncommon for a family of four to stretch a single can of meat over a month’s time.
The mobile canner, led by a crew of four men, travels from early October until April making stops in Ohio, Kansas, Minnesota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, Canada in addition to Milford and Henderson in Nebraska.
The unit that visited Henderson this week is the third generation of the custom machines. It went into service in 1993.
The first dates to 1946. It was retired in 1973 and remains on display at the Kaufman Museum in North Newton, Kan. The second canner served from 1973 until 1993 when it was sent to a Mennonite colony in Belize.
The staggering numbers for the single canner include: 12,000 miles of travel, more than 10,000 volunteers and 500,000-plus cans of meat produced.
The four who brought the rig to Henderson and who work in shifts of two are: Claudio Regier from Neuland, Paraguay, David Hochstetler from Shickley, Raynor Krahn from Para Todo, Paraguay and Matthew Blosser who lives in Goshen, Ind.
The idea for a mobile canner was born during World War II when the Mennonites answered the cry for help from hungry, homeless war-suffering people both at home and abroad.
Swartzendruber emphasized there are “no qualifications” about where the food goes … “wherever it’s needed to whoever needs it,” he said.
During the year ending March 31, 2015 MCC canned meat shipments went to: Canada, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, North Korea, Serbia, Ukraine and Zambia in addition to the U.S.
Swartzendruber said it’s a near-certainty Syrian refugees will become recipients in light of present global realities.
Outright relief is a huge part of the project’s mission, however Swartzendruber said the meat is also used to fuel local populations in improving their own situations. An example might be MCC Development feeding local populations to keep them at work on forest restoration or any one of myriad similar projects.
“So they can move forward” and help meet their own needs.
“It’s nice. It’s so direct,” said Swartzendruber of how Henderson Mennonites feel about their investment of sweat and currency. “People come here and know it’s going right to where it’s needed.”