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History of Relief Canning

The idea developed during World War II among the Mennonites. As the war continued the number of hungry, homeless, war-suffering people grew, and their cry for help became audible. In Virginia's Shenandoah Valley a local business built and operated a portable canner in the area, processing food for relief overseas.

The unique idea for a portable meat canner took shape as reports of hungry World War II refugees reached North America. Drawing on its experience channeling home-preserved food to men in Civilian Public Service camps, MCC put out a call for relief contributions.

As soon became apparent, shipping food overseas in glass jars was inefficient and messy due to 25 percent breakage. So a business in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley built a portable canner for tin cans in 1945.

A Mennonite relief committee in Hesston, Kansas, hearing of the Virginia project, also built a canning unit. Scoffed at by government officials and local can companies as impractical, the idea of a portable canner caught on in Mennonite communities.

After several years of operating west of the Mississippi, the Hesston-built canner was turned over to MCC for use all over North America. The canner has been replaced several times; the current one was built in 1993.

Allen Zook, of Hesston, Kansas, was one of the original "canner boys" who travel with the equipment each year. His memories — of community spirit and long, cold days of work — aren't so different from current realities. But one thing has changed: In 1947, some people were skeptical that food canned in tin instead of glass could be safe.

"After a few days we'd open a can just to show them the meat was still good," Zook remembers.

Meanwhile, out on the Great Plains of Kansas, Mennonites also wanted to provide relief for war-sufferers. A relief committee was formed in Hesston, KS, to respond to the needs, and they also built a canning unit.

IN  2015 a new state-of-the-art mobile canner was dedicated and placed into service starting in October at the Apostolic World Relief Center, then to Relief Canning, Inc., Kidron in Gerber Building, behind Central Christian School. Located at 3970 Kidron Rd., Kidron, OH  44636.


Today, the canning unit is mounted on a flat-bed trailer, enclosed with fold-up sides. Four MCC volunteers operate the canning unit, traveling to 33 locations in 11 states as well as Manitoba and Ontario, Canada, from October to May.

At each location, a local meat canning committee has purchased meat and arranged for facilities and volunteers. The work of the local committees is the heart of the program.

At Kidron, the canning unit can process 9000# of boneless turkey thigh meat in one day.View article about Dedication of the Gerber Memorial Building.


Historical Articles

Click link to view article from January 1937: Big-Scale Canning is Done by Oak Grove Congregration