Small Montgomery County Town Feeding World's Hungry

Some people take the day off from work just so they can help

By THERESA HEGEL
|  Sunday, Apr 7, 2013  |  Updated 4:02 PM EDT
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Town's 3-Day Tradition Feeds World's Hungry

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Once a year, the mobile canner rolls into Franconia.

For three days, hundreds of cheerful volunteers rotate three-hour shifts from 6 a.m. until well into the evening, furiously processing and packaging 14,000 cans of fresh pork, bought on the cheap from Hatfield and other local sources.

One 28-ounce can of meat can feed 10 people, said Abe Landis, coordinator of the annual program at the Mennonite Central Committee Material Resource Center in Franconia.

The resource center must raise about $37,000 in donations each year to process the meat — those costs cover operation of the pressure cookers, the purchase of metal cans and paper labels and even the shipping of the filled cans, Landis told The Intelligencier.

But when you break down the costs, it amounts to a protein-rich meal for only 26 cents, a price that includes delivery, he said.

"You can't go anywhere to get that," Landis said.

Once the cans are sealed and labeled, they are sent around the world to feed the hungry. About 1,000 of the cans produced at the resource center stay local, distributed to food pantries in the region, according to Sharon Swartzentruber, activity coordinator at the resource center.

The canned pork has an expiration date three years in the future, but it actually lasts about seven years, staying safe through extreme heat and cold, Swartzentruber said.

The mobile canner, operated by four men for two-year terms, travels to 37 locations across the country and in Canada. Since it started back in 1946, the mobile meat canner has produced more than 17 million cans.

Toby Penner of Paraguay is in the first year of a two-year term serving on the mobile canner.

He said he joined because he wanted to be "working for the Lord," but also likes having the opportunity to meet new people and practice his language skills.

Though it's hard work with long hours, he thinks it's more fun than a job that would keep him stuck in one place.

The volunteers who flock to help the mobile canner when it comes to Franconia are just as enthusiastic. Some people take the day off from work just so they can help, Landis said.

"It's amazing," Swartzentruber said. "People love to do this; they just come out of the woodwork."

This year, Landis said, the resource center also had the experience of their work coming full circle.

A Korean man decided to volunteer his time for a few hours before work because, back in South Korea, he'd been to the warehouse of a Christian relief group and seen a stack of canned meat from the Mennonite Central Committee, Landis said.

"That's why he was so interested (in volunteering)," he added.

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