The cannery was built in the early 1980s, intended to supply peanut butter as part of the Church’s welfare program, and also to be used for humanitarian aid. The cannery is one of many food production facilities throughout the
US and intended for these purposes worldwide. Canada
In 2003 the cannery became even more. A year earlier Larry Talley, a Latter-day Saint as well as an employee at that time at Exxon-Mobil, got this brainstorm one day about the cannery. It was used only for 48-hour shifts, manned by Church-member volunteers, about 11 times a year, producing for the Church’s distribution needs. What about all those other days when it wasn’t being used? What if we could produce peanut butter for the Houston Food Bank on some of those off days? He made the proposal, I believe combining input from the local Church leadership running the cannery, the Houston Food Bank, and his company’s HR department (for the volunteer labor). The agreement was that the Church would provide the jars, lids, extra ingredients, and use of the machinery; the Houston Food Bank would gather donations to fund the purchase of the peanuts, and community organizations would staff the volunteer crews. In early 2003 the first Houston Food Bank labeled peanut butter was produced, and the project has been providing about 98,000 jars a year, at a cost to the food bank of about 60% of the cost of commercial peanut butter.
The peanut butter shifts were somewhat limited by the equipment. Once started up, they had to run pretty much continually until the run was completed, because the cleaning process was involved (using I think I was told about 40 gallons of oil—but I may be remembering that wrong) and somewhat expensive. So Houston Food Bank sessions were always tagged onto the day before the Church’s scheduled weekend sessions. The renovation has enlarged the capacity significantly. There’s a new roaster—now in a separate building from the canning process—the entire housing for which was added on to the building. Sorting is now done by laser, rather than by dizzying eyes working at a conveyor belt. Everything is faster. Instead of 4000 jars per 4-hour shift, the cannery can produce 4800. This year the project will produce 250,000 jars for food banks in
Houston and across . Houston Food Bank distributes at no cost to 300 relief agencies. Texas
During the dedication ceremony, Briane Greene, President of the Houston Food Bank, talked about how the peanut butter is used. This peanut butter is not just for the food insecure. It’s used for the Backpack Buddy Program—a weekend pack of food for children showing symptoms of chronic hunger. The program is in 200 schools, and peanut butter is the most requested product. It’s a protein food that doesn’t need refrigeration or cooking, with a shelf life up to three years. But, mainly, kids like it.
He said that there was some anxiety among the kids as Christmas approached. They realized the kids were worried about going all the way through the holidays without getting food from school. So they stocked up the schools with extra to make sure the kids had food through the Christmas break.
Larry Talley was quoted on the brochure handed out, saying, “The need for peanut butter is tremendous. If we could make more through additional funding and volunteers, the Houston Food Bank would distribute more, up to ten times more.”
Church leader Gifford Nielsen (yes, the Gifford Nielsen who had a long career as a sportscaster in
) talked a little about the Church’s welfare farms and canneries. He grew up in an area where the Church owned fruit tree farms. He recalled going out there with his dad, following directions to help pick up branches after the adults pruned the trees. And later in the summer they would go back and pick apples, placing them carefully first in sacks around their necks, and then gently into crates. Houston
The peanuts for this project are grown on a Church-owned farm in
. Church member volunteers from in and around Pearsall, Texas take turns working on the farm. The variety of peanut is only grown in central and west San Antonio , and it has the highest content of Omega 3 fatty acids. So it is more nutritious than other varieties of peanuts. The Church doesn’t own shelling equipment, so it sells the peanuts to Wilco Shelling Company, and then buys them as needed throughout the year. Texas
|2000-lb. bags of shelled peanuts|
Another section of the facility is a staging area for disaster relief. When a hurricane is on the way to the Gulf Coast Region, tractor-trailers are loaded up days ahead and put on route to this facility, where basic food, water, and supplies like tarps, generators, and chainsaws, are sent to be in place as soon as the storm hits. The Church often arrives with relief on the scene before the Red Cross.
All of this humanitarian aid, both for the Church members, and for the wider community, is completely paid for by member donations (beyond the tithing members also pay) to the Church’s Humanitarian Services Fund.
Gifford Nielsen talked for a minute about miracles that happen through this peanut butter project: “Through the efforts of many, miracles will take place. Some we’ll know, and some we’ll have no idea…. We bless others, but we really save ourselves.” I felt inspired, almost tearful, when he added, “The greatest miracle can happen within us as we serve.” All of us there--we wanted those miracles to keep happening.
|Peanut Butter's gourmet side|