Provo • Nothing says Thanksgiving like 1,800 Mormon missionaries in red hairnets.
Well, only 900 missionaries at a time in red hairnets. They worked in two shifts Thursday at the Missionary Training Center to package 350,000 meals for hungry Utah children.
"It's the best way to be spending our Thanksgiving," said Elder Chase Langford of South Jordan. "With all the blessings we have, to give back is an awesome experience."
Rather than spend the holiday feeling homesick, the missionaries spent part of the day working in assembly-line fashion to package all those meals.
"We needed something to do to keep them from getting homesick. This worked," said MTC President Lon Nally. "This is the largest single humanitarian project, outside of a natural disaster, the church has put on. It's amazing. We're doing 350,000 meals that will feed the poor children of Utah."
While the MTC in Provo is currently home to elders and sisters from more than 30 nations, the project was all about Utah.
"We're encouraging congregations around the world to look for needs locally," said Rick Foster, the LDS Church's manager of North America Humanitarian Services. "We've got plenty of needs right in our own backyard."
The Utah Food Bank made a presentation to the church about its BackPack Program, which packages nutritious, nonperishable food like lentils and beans that is provided to Utah schools and sent home with children in need. Coincidentally, the founder and CEO of Feeding Children Everywhere, Don Campbell, recently toured the LDS Church's Welfare Square and jumped on board with the project as well.
And "every bit of the food will go to the Utah Food Bank," Foster said. As for the missionaries putting the meals together on Thanksgiving Day, the consensus was that this was an excellent way to spend the holiday.
"Definitely," said Sister Megan Wright of Seattle. "You're not thinking about yourself, you're thinking about other people."
"I definitely thought I would feel more homesick," Langford said.
A lot of those missionaries were spending their first Thanksgiving away from home, and quite a few were experiencing their first Thanksgiving.
"In England, we have a harvest festival where we do something kind of similar to what we're doing now," said Elder Jesse Bishop. "But the whole idea of having a turkey dinner, that's new."
Elder Insu Kim said he had heard of the American holiday back home in Korea, "but I didn't know much. And I hadn't eaten turkey before. It's the first time."
"And it had to be MTC turkey," chorused the missionaries surrounding Kim, laughing about the processed nature of the food in the MTC cafeteria.