Provo • In the underground parking garage of the Provo Missionary Training Center on Thursday, thousands of hairnet-clad men and women in sharp suits, dresses and nametags spooned scoops of oats and dehydrated apples into plastic pouches.
A set of loudspeakers pumped out Christmas and holiday carols, and every few moments the loud hum of conversation was interrupted by cheers and the clanging of cowbells as a table of workers filled and sealed yet another box of meal kits that will soon make their way to families in need in Utah.
“It’s good to be doing service,” said Elder Nolan Haggen, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Providence in northern Utah’s Cache County. “It feels like it brings you a bit closer to home.”
At the same work station as Haggen, Elder Scott Hulbert, from Salt Lake City, took turns scooping puffed rice into a funnel. He agreed the work helped with homesickness while adding that it didn’t hurt to have a break from the MTC routine.
“No, not at all,” he said with a laugh.
This Thanksgiving Day service project was the latest in an annual tradition for the MTC in which the missionaries-in-training for the LDS Church take a break from their daily doses of intense religious and language studies to box meals for the Utah Food Bank, in partnership with the Florida-based organization Feeding Children Everywhere.
The group of more than 1,400 Latter-day Saint missionaries was expected to box roughly 350,000 meals on Thursday, prepping kits for a four-ingredient apple pie oats breakfast that needs only water to be eaten as a hot or cold cereal.
“This is a lot of people in the room,” said Keriann Roe, an event leader with Feeding Children Everywhere. “It’s a lot of meals.”
Latter-day Saint missionaries serve full time for a period of two years for young men or 18 months for women. While much of their time is spent proselytizing, missionaries are also encouraged to engage in service when possible.
MTC President David Martino said the Thanksgiving project gives missionaries an opportunity to focus on helping others while they’re still being trained.
“This is a small way they can do it during the Thanksgiving time," he said, “a time of gratitude.”
Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities and first counselor in the faith’s female Relief Society general presidency, said she herself was a missionary at the MTC over Thanksgiving and remembers it being hard not to feel homesick.
The project helps, she said, by turning attention to service that makes a difference for Utah families.
“You have something fun to do. You’re listening to Christmas music,” she said. “This is the only time [of the year] we do this type of service project.”
She credited the “triple partnership” of LDS Charities, Feeding Children Everywhere and the Utah Food Bank for making the project possible, as well as the contribution to the church’s humanitarian fund by individual Latter-day Saints.
“This is breakfast for kids when they go to school," she said, “if they don’t have breakfast at home.”