Church Canneries Link Need with Willing Hands
previous next

“Church Canneries Link Need with Willing Hands,” Ensign, July 1996, 76–77

Church Canneries Link Need with Willing Hands

To Whom It May Concern,

In the last eight months I’ve had a lot of financial problems. I used to work for a major telephone company, but I was laid off. I did manage to find another job, but at substantially less money. I [now] make about $30 too much for food stamps, and between rent, utilities, gas, etc., I have hardly any money left.

On several occasions, I have needed to go to a food bank. It is an awful transition to have to make when one day you support yourself well and the next day you barely make the rent.

I am writing this because the last time I was given food, I received a can of blackberry jam. To me, it was like someone sent me a smile, and right now I could use one. I read the label and found out where it came from and who sent it. That made it much nicer. I just wanted to say ‘thank you.’—Cheryl

Cheryl is one of literally thousands of people around the world who benefit from Church humanitarian aid—in this case, food canned in one of 47 Church-owned canneries in the United States and Canada. Most Church members know of the Church’s cannery system, but few realize that the canneries are used for more than stocking bishops’ storehouses.

“Certainly that’s our primary objective and the part that people are most familiar with,” explains Dennis Lifferth, director of production distribution for the Church. “But canning the products for the storehouses actually uses up only a small amount of time. During the harvest, the canneries are busy, but after the harvest season, we have large periods of time when the canneries can be idle if people aren’t aware of the resources.

“Church canneries provide a way for members and nonmembers alike to give of their time and surplus commodities in humanitarian efforts to help others,” Brother Lifferth continues. “They also provide a place for those in need to work for assistance received and to learn skills to become self-reliant, and the canneries help members and nonmembers become more self-reliant by encouraging them to process basic foods for their own needs.”

Humanitarian Aid

Although canneries have been part of the Church’s welfare program since the 1930s, the system as presently organized began in 1963 with the construction of a new, larger cannery on Welfare Square in Salt Lake City. The very first year of the cannery’s operation, time and labor were spent on humanitarian aid. Officials from Shriner’s Hospital in Salt Lake City called the Welfare Square manager, explaining that they had just received a large truckload of peaches as a gift. Unable to use all the peaches before they spoiled, hospital officials wondered if they could use the canning facilities to can the peaches. “Of course” was the reply, and making those facilities available to the wider community became an established practice.

Through the years, cannery facilities and personnel (including a full-time, paid cannery manager and volunteer quality-control personnel) have joined forces with volunteer Church members and other volunteers to complete hundreds of projects. In spring 1995, the Islamic Society of North America called cannery officials. The group had 250 head of cattle and had found a plant in New Mexico that would process the meat, but they needed a place to can the processed meat so they could send it to the hungry in Bosnia.

“We scheduled a time in the Ogden, Utah, cannery,” Brother Lifferth says. “They provided the raw product, and we provided the facilities. We had Church members in the area come to the cannery, and they invited Islamic members in the area to participate. We worked side by side and canned more than 5,200 cases.”

What are the specifics in projects such as this? “We provide the facilities, the cans, and the leadership and direction,” says Brother Lifferth. “We comply with all food regulations—our workers, most of whom are volunteers, are trained and certified—so we maintain the facilities and run the lines. Sometimes the different organizations supply the labor, yet often our own members volunteer their time.”

A Needed Bridge

Many projects have been arranged in cooperation with food banks in the various cannery locations. Sometimes the excess food produced by Church farms is canned and donated to food banks. In addition, many people in the communities, other churches, and commercial companies are generous in donating time and surplus food to the poor. Church canneries provide a needed bridge, linking the abundance of food with willing hands to produce help for those in need. “The canneries are available; we want them to be used,” Brother Lifferth says.

Food Storage Resource

Church canneries also provide a marvelous opportunity for community members to begin or supplement their own food storage.

“All the canneries have dry-pack facilities,” explains Brother Lifferth. “This means that members and nonmembers alike may come in and can dry goods for their food storage. The cannery supplies the product, anything from flour and sugar to dried beans and peas to soup mixes and powdered milk. People buy the dry materials at a reasonable price from the canneries and then can the products and take them home.”

Some of the canneries have wet-pack facilities, or the ability to can food that is not dried. “We do peaches, pears, and applesauce,” Brother Lifferth says. “Some canneries do meat or beans. For wet-pack canning, people need to call the cannery and find out what’s scheduled for production. Items are canned only during a specific period of time. Cannery workers can schedule a time for you to come.” An appointment is also necessary for dry-pack canning, but dry-pack materials are available throughout the year.

For many years, Brother Lifferth observes, it was mainly older, retired members who spent time at the canneries, either volunteering for the humanitarian projects or doing their own food-storage canning. “But in the last few years, we’ve noticed that more and more members are becoming involved,” he says. “We’ve had youth groups and young married couples. We’ve had single adults and entire families. We really encourage that, and we’re trying to make it even more convenient and easy for those who are interested.”

Church members work side by side with members of the Islamic faith to can meat for the hungry in Bosnia. (Photo by Patrick Reese.)

Volunteers of all ages give service at Church canneries in tasks such as inspecting corn prior to canning. (Photo by Welden Andersen.)