MOUNTAIN LAKE — Finding a balanced meal can be difficult, and it’s especially hard for people trying to survive in or escape from a war zone.
The Mountain Lake-Area Relief Committee is hoping to help by gathering together to process 10,000 pounds of poultry meat this week, most of which will likely be sent to Ukraine, to help people displaced by the war with Russia.
First Mennonite Church, Bethel Mennonite Church, Community Bible Church and Elmendorf Christian Community are cooperating on the project, a long-time volunteering tradition for the Mountain Lake area community at large that was put on pause for a few years due to avian flu and then COVID-19.
“Historically, it’s been done in this community for generations,” said Ramont Harder Schrock, chairperson of the committee.
The objective is simple. The Mennonite Central Committee mobile meat canner will be at the shop from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, at the Elmendorf Christian Community, 42668 600th Ave., southeast of Mountain Lake.
During that time, volunteers will can 10,000 pounds of chicken, paid for by donations through local churches and the community. The process involves running the chicken through a grinder, bringing it into the mobile canning factory with its boiler and working under the direction of four supervisors to prepare the cans, which then go to more volunteers for cleaning and labeling. They’re dated, scanned, packed in boxes and pallets, wrapped and eventually, sent where they are needed.
Each canning shift takes about 10 people working on the actual canning portion of the task, with another 20 people doing the other tasks. Typically, the committee schedules out the designated canning jobs and the rest of the community simply stops by, helps out for an hour or two and goes home.
This year, Mountain Lake Public School is sending two shifts of students, and Mountain Lake Christian School will send a shift as well.
As of Monday, the event seems to have enough hands to do the main shift work, but Harder Schrock encouraged anyone interested in helping out to just show up.
“Come to observe and to experience it, and there’s always little jobs like wiping cans…. There’s usually work to be found,” he said. “Stop by and check it out. We’ll find a way for you to lend a hand for a while if you want to.”
Coffee, donuts and meals are provided for volunteers, he added, and the atmosphere is more like a friendly community picnic than a factory.
Using the mobile meat canner means everything is done according to proper safety standards, just like an industry canning facility would do.
The process ends with 1.5-pound cans of ground chicken, suitable for use in all sorts of dishes.
“In a lot of places around the world, you can scrounge enough carbohydrates, but the protein is really expensive, and this is one way we address that,” Harder Schrock said.
The stories that come back from people distributing the meat are often dramatic, as people are very grateful and often stretch the meat as far as they can to feed their children, he added.
Depending on local needs, some of the food may end up on local food shelves, too, as each local group doing a canning event can keep 10% of the cans they produce.
“We have close connections with our local food shelf in Mountain Lake,” Harder Schrock said.
Another thing people can do to aid the effort is to donate funds at the event.
“We are always soliciting money for this. It’s going to cost us roughly $25,000 to run the project this year from start to finish, by the time we pay for fuel and all that,” Harder Schrock explained. “Those funds each year are raised and donated through the churches and other people in our community.”
Anyone interested in volunteering as an individual or family may simply show up during the event, but Harder Schrock encouraged people to call (507) 822-4212 in advance if they want to bring a larger group or contribute funding.
More information on the Mennonite Central Committee and its Mobile Meat Canner can be found at mcc.org .