PROVO, Utah — The nearly 700 missionaries spending Thanksgiving at the Provo Missionary Training Center put the “giving” into the holiday, preparing and packaging an estimated 385,000 breakfast kits in a four-hour service project Thursday afternoon, Nov. 25.
Spread throughout the underground parking area of the Provo MTC, the service project was done in connection with Hunger Fight, a Florida-based nonprofit organization delivering food to the hungry.
Hunger Fight and Latter-day Saint Charities have partnered together in projects in Florida and Utah over the past two years, including a similar meal-packaging effort last month at the Silicone Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City.
Working alongside the missionaries in the endeavor were Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, who both had spoken in a morning devotional at the MTC; Sister Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the general Relief Society presidency, who shared a pre-project devotional message with the missionaries; and Hunger Fight’s own 12-member team coming in from the Jacksonville, Florida, area.
“Everybody has so much energy, and this is such a fun project to be able to work with hundreds of missionaries putting together 385,000 kits,” said Sister Eubank while joining missionaries at a worktable. “You can look around the room and just feel the energy. You don’t get homesick — it’s totally positive. We’re having a great time.”
Said Sherri Porter, executive director of Hunger Fight, said when Hunger Fight officials were at the Silicone Slopes event last month, they came in and learned of the possibility of having missionary involvement at the MTC. “We came in and checked out the space and said, ‘We’ve never done it in a parking garage before.’ But we were like ‘We can make this work.’”
She added that Hunger Fight felt “so thankful and blessed to be a part of it, with people coming and giving their time on the holiday. It’s amazing and humbling to see so many people who are willing to do these things and give up their holidays for Jesus. It’s hard for other people to understand, but this is what it’s all about.”
Prior to the project, all missionaries met to listen to Sister Eubank and to receive some direction and instruction on the process before being divided in half for two two-hour packaging segments.
Dean Porter, Sherri Porter’s husband and vice president of Hunger Fight, offered the missionaries a preview of packaging the meal kits. “If you’ve never done this before, you’re going to be doing two hours of controlled chaos, and we’re going to have lots of fun. …
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“For those of you who haven’t done anything like this, it truly is going to be a blessing. You’re going to leave with a big, huge smile on your face, and you’re going to feel very, very rewarded.”
Dozens of tables positioned in the parking garage were filled by missionaries wearing hairnets and gloves. Missionaries laughed when the instructional video said individuals with facial hair would have to wear a “beard-net” — obviously, none were needed.
Oatmeal packets were filled, sealed and boxed, with a cowbell used to signal the filling of a 42-packet box, which was then stacked on a packet. The ringing of the cowbell always seemed to be accompanied by celebratory shouts from the missionaries, heard over the Christmas hymns being played on portable speakers.
Elder Cameron Smith, from Fairview, Utah, and assigned to the Washington Kennewick Mission, said participating in the project “makes me feel great to help people who need the extra food — and being able to do it as a big group here at the MTC really means something special, especially around this time of year.”
Elder Hyrum Rich, from Thermopolis, Wyoming, and headed to the Poland Warsaw Mission, enjoyed being among the half-dozen missionaries who worked at the same table as Elder and Sister Stevenson, packaging bags of oatmeal and brown sugar.
“It was fun — it was busy, fast-paced, but it was awesome and felt good,” said Elder Rich, adding that he was excited to tell his family with whom he had worked with on the afternoon project. “I’m definitely going to call home tonight and let them know.”
President Benson L. Porter, president of the Provo MTC, admitted it’s difficult to keep nearly 700 full-time training missionaries active and involved on a holiday with limited operational staff and no training instructors.
“There have been many who came in to help out — it’s been wonderful It’s a bit of a challenge — you have to have a little organization, but you have a lot of dedicated missionaries with good hearts who want to serve. So it just all kind of falls together.”
He cited President Russell M. Nelson, who said one could always serve in Christ’s way and in His name. “You see all these missionary badges here and you see the missionaries serving. It’s just like you would want it to be done, and it feels really good.”
After completing the project in two waves of workers and eating a pre-bagged meal, the missionaries were treated to an evening performance by Jon Schmidt and then had a chance to walk and enjoy the first evening of Christmas lights on the MTC campus before returning to their residences for the night.
Summarized Sister Eubank: “This is the real spirit of the gospel at the holiday time — you know, for people who don’t have enough food, this is a way for them to get some food, packed by volunteers who really do it out of love. This is the message of the gospel.”