2010-02-18 / Church News

Mennonite, Amish Churches Can Meat For Haiti

By Tim Hahn ERIE TIMES-NEWS

SPARTANSBURG, Pa. (AP) – Inside a cramped trailer, shrouded by thick white steam, a group of men heated and salted turkey in huge vats before it was canned and sent on to one of six pressure cookers.

“We’re here to help people out,’’ volunteer Ivan Schlabach said.

He and about 40 others, from elementary school-age boys to an Amish elder who was celebrating his 87th birthday, worked quickly and quietly Wednesday morning at Valley View Mennonite Church, near Spartansburg, in Crawford County.

About 200 volunteers from numerous churches spent three days this week prepping, cooking, canning, labeling and boxing 30,000 pounds of turkey thigh meat. The 17,000 28-ounce cans will be distributed in places like earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

“We do it because we’re commanded to feed the hungry,’’ said facilitator Susan Bell, of Valley View. “We’re commanded by Scripture to do it.’’

Each year for about 30 years, Valley View Mennonite Church has welcomed the mobile meat canner. Cathy Harms, of Beaverdam Mennonite Church, near Corry, said the trailer is sent by the Mennonite Central Committee. The MCC is a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches, which include Mennonite and Amish.

The mobile meat canner and its crew travel the U.S. and parts of Canada from October through April, stopping at churches such as Valley View.

Local farmers used to donate beef to the effort, but because of federal health guidelines, poultry is bought now, Harms said. Skinless, boneless turkey thighs are ordered from a co-op in Virginia, Bell said. Harms said the bird meat has as much protein as the beef did.

Bell said the price tag for this year’s local effort, including the turkey, cans and shipping, is $50,000. She has a mailing list of more than 20 congregations – mostly Mennonite and Amish, but a few others, as well – that contribute cash and/or volunteers. Many are from Crawford County. Beaverdam is the only one in Erie County, Bell said. Others are in New York state and West Virginia, she said.

Inside Valley View, the workers cut open clear plastic pouches of turkey and fed the meat through grinders before sending it, in large steel pots, down a long hallway to the canning trailer.

From the mobile unit, the finished cans were then sent back down the hallway to the main room, where a few dozen men and women gathered around tables to stamp, label and box the cans.

Young girls prepared the labels after a group of older women had stamped each with the church’s name and address to identify where the meat came from.

In past years, meat canned at Valley View has gone to orphanages in India and Korea, to hurricane survivors in Mississippi and Louisiana, and to hungry people in other places where the Mennonite Central Committee has a presence, the local women said.

This year, the volunteers at Valley View got together to prepare meat that will help feed people devastated by the January earthquake in Haiti.

“We’re sitting up here in our warm, comfortable houses, and the people of Haiti and other lands are in dire need,’’ Schlabach said. “A lot can be done with a lot of help.’’

Bell said her church occasionally receives thank-yous for the meat, with one coming a couple weeks ago from the Ukraine.

Besides the canned turkey, the Valley View and Beaverdam churches also were compiling 40 health and hygiene kits to send to Haiti, the women said.

“It’s all for what Jesus did for us,’’ said Vernon Yoder, who helped coordinate Wednesday’s activities. “It’s a great time to come together, to work together, to have fellowship. We’re trying to reach out and touch people with the full Gospel.’’

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