PROVO, Utah, Nov. 24, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — A Thanksgiving Day tradition in service and caring was alive and well in Provo Thursday as 1,500 LDS missionaries-in-training and dozens of volunteers packaged 350,000 meals in a single day to help feed Utah’s hungry children.
The colossal effort — now an annual event — is part of a joint operation championed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the non-denominational Christian organization Feeding Children Everywhere, a Florida-based charity with the mission to “empower and mobilize people to assemble healthy meals for children.”
“We’re so grateful for the partnership with the LDS Church and it’s so meaningful for the missionaries because here on Thanksgiving,” said David Green, CEO of Feeding Children Everywhere. “It’s a day about gratitude. It’s day about giving back.”
“We’ve been packaging meals at the MTC since 2013, so this has become a Thanksgiving tradition at the MTC. They packaged 350,000 meals here just today. Since we’ve started the partnership with the MTC, they’ve actually packaged just over a million meals. So this will put them close to 1.4 million total packaged meals on Thanksgiving over the last few years.”
Elder Taylor Stevens, a missionary-in training from Saratoga Springs, Utah, said while Thursday’s meal preparations were intense, it was a deeply rewarding experience — a feeling he shared with future fellow missionaries who turned the event into a daylong party.
“It’s hard work, but it’s fun,” Stevens said, pausing momentarily as a throng of soon-to-be missionaries whooped and cheered having reached another packaging benchmark. “Service is just wonderful. It helps your spirit. It brings good feelings. It’s one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve ever had.”
“When it comes to the meals, I get really emotional,” said Sister Kathleen Bertasso, wife of First Counselor and MTC Mission President Michael Bertasso, “especially when I think that a lot of these meals will go in the backpacks that go home with the kids on Fridays that don’t have food for the weekends. It’s very tender to think that all these missionaries are able to provide that for them.”
Each meal costs 25 cents to produce and distribute. The LDS Church’s provides the ingredients like lentils and rice, which it buys and delivers by the ton. The church also provides the personnel, namely missionaries, to package the meals, which are then distributed throughout the state. The meals packaged on Thanksgiving Day were destined for school food pantries and their backpack food programs. Still more food will be given to various crisis food banks.
While the number of meals packaged at the MTC is impressive by any standard, the challenge of feeding Utah’s hungry remains daunting. According to the Utah Food Bank, 20 percent of the state’s children don’t know where their next meal is coming from day-to-day. The same is true for one in seven Utah adults, who are at risk of missing a meal each day. Overall, 15 percent of the state’s population — 423,000 people — are deemed “food insecure.”
Yet, while the statistics are sobering, they’re anything but demotivating. Quite the opposite. The unbridled enthusiasm of the 1,500 young missionaries and 40 volunteers who rolled up their sleeves on a Thanksgiving Day to help those in need was testament to that.
First Counselor and MTC Mission President Michael Bertasso watched the event as it unfolded and marveled at the zeal with which the young men and women went about their jobs, in what might be considered the ultimate object lesson for budding missionaries whose lives will soon be centered on serving in the field.
“It’s so great to watch these young people have an opportunity to do real service for people,” he said, “that’s what makes it so great.”
It’s a view shared by Feeding Children Everywhere CEO Green.
“Today is a day about being grateful for what we have, and today the missionaries get to be the ones who make the impact,” Green said.
“They are the answer to someone’s prayer today.”
Since its inception in 2010, Feeding Children Everywhere has organized food delivery to 60 million people worldwide.