PROVO, Utah — More than 1,500 missionaries are spending this holiday season in the Provo Missionary Training Center, away from home and family, and their Thanksgiving meal perhaps does not resemble the one they might have normally enjoyed. But if the ringing bells, cheers and festive music echoing through a below-ground parking garage are any indication, this Thanksgiving is a happy one.
“I’m feeling great,” said Sister Maylin Erickson of Glendale, Arizona. “It’s hard being away from my family, but I can’t think of a better place I’d rather be.”
She was one of hundreds of missionaries who donned hair nets and lined up at tables to assemble meal packets on Thanksgiving Day.
With Feeding Children Everywhere — a Florida-based nonprofit organization — providing the logistics, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints providing the funding and the missionaries providing the labor, the combined force assembled about 350,000 breakfast meal packets to be donated to the Utah Food Bank.
“Being able to serve, to make these meals for families that need it, is really, really great,” Sister Erickson said.
The MTC has partnered with Feeding Children Everywhere for the Thanksgiving service project since 2013.
This is Dave Green’s third Thanksgiving spent at the Provo MTC. The Feeding Children Everywhere CEO is ready to make a trip to Utah with his family an annual Thanksgiving tradition.
“Whether five years from now if I’m still at Feeding Children Everywhere or whatever God’s called me to, I think every year at Thanksgiving, this is going to be our family tradition — no matter what, to spend it in Utah,” he said.
The MTC is a special place to Green. He had partnered with the Church in Florida earlier, but when he came to the MTC in 2013, he said he “felt the presence of God.” He felt a similar spirit touring Temple Square with his family and he began to have many questions about the Church. On the way back to Orlando, Florida, he prayed and told God that he would read the Book of Mormon if that’s what He wanted.
Despite having spent three days at the MTC, he was not given a copy of the Book of Mormon. It was the Uber driver picking him and his family up from the airport who had a copy to give him. Soon after, Green met with missionaries and joined the Church a few months later.
On Thanksgiving day, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Sister Harriet Uchtdorf spoke at a devotional for missionaries in the MTC. Read about their messages here.
The service project will go beyond the food packets packaged by the missionaries. Executives with the nonprofit organization Silicon Slopes were also there to watch and learn from the missionaries.
“We’re showing some of these people here from Silicon Slopes the ropes on how to do packaging like this,” said Elder Daniel S. Mehr II, an Area Seventy and chairman of JustServe for the state of Utah.
Those involved with Silicon Slopes are planning on raising money and funding another hunger project with Feeding Children Everywhere, which will be completed during a tech summit in the Salt Palace in January.
The missionaries’ service doesn’t end with a Thanksgiving day project.
In a devotional before the service project, the missionaries were shown videos from the Light The World initiative and given ideas as to how to encourage others to serve when they reach the mission field.
Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, invited all the missionaries to participate in the Light The World initiative, in particular during the worldwide day of service on Dec. 1. However, while many of the missionaries will still be in the MTC on that day, that should not keep them from participating in the day of service, she said.
“This MTC is the perfect opportunity for you to pray and ask for revelation. ‘What can I do? I’m at the MTC, but what could I do to encourage someone? To lighten somebody’s burden?’ You will be amazed at the creative ideas that will come to you through the Holy Ghost of what you can do.”
“I think it’s really important to do service all over — not just on your mission, but in life in general,” Sister Emily Allen, who will serve in the Italy Rome Mission. She was a captain at one of over 50 assembly tables during the MTC service project.
Of the service that day, she said, “I think it gives you really good preparation for the mission field,” she said.