PROVO — Meal-kit preparation has gone underground at the Provo Missionary Training Center.

No, it’s not some secretive, clandestine operation, but rather the annual Thanksgiving Day service project involving the hundreds of full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints residing and training at the Provo MTC.

Thursday afternoon’s 2019 project made for the seventh such yearly effort shared between the MTC and its missionaries and the Florida-based Feeding Children Everywhere non-profit organization.

The day’s numbers: 1,516 missionaries divided in to two hour-long work shifts and preparing some 350,000 meal kits of Thai noodles to feed 140,000 families.

And all was done in the underground parking area below the south end of the MTC campus.

When the service project started a half-dozen years ago, MTC officials scrambled to find a large enough area to accommodate all the food supplies, boxing materials and the hundreds of missionary volunteers working together in prep teams. The cafeteria and auditorium spaces initially used were also typically in demand for the day’s special meal and the several large-scale devotionals.

And so, the underground parking has become the gathering place for the Thanksgiving service project, allowing bulk food to easily be brought in by forklift and full meal-kit boxes transported out. The same area has long been used as the weekly spot for families and friends dropping off new missionaries at the Provo MTC.

The missionaries weren’t the only ones spending their first Thanksgiving at the missionary center and away from home. First-year Provo MTC President David E. LeSueur and his wife, Sister Nancy LeSueur, were experiencing their first set of Thanksgiving devotionals and service project as well, walking with visiting family members along the tables where meal kits were being prepared while Christmas music blared through portal speakers positioned throughout the underground parking area.

The LeSueurs listed the day’s activities at the Provo MTC, which started with a morning devotional with Elder Neil L. Andersen of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who spoke on gratitude for “the three beautiful blessings” given to all — life, choice and the Savior Jesus Christ.

“On your mission, there will be times when you will need to think of all the things you are thankful for as you confront unimagined challenges,” Elder Andersen said. “As you keep a spirit of thankfulness, you will have courage to overcome these obstacles.”

The holiday events that followed included a hearty holiday meal, a film and other meetings — one explaining the processes and purpose of the service project and another reviewing the church’s “Light The World” Christmas campaign. With the latter, the missionaries viewed the new video “The Christ Child.”

“Of the missionaries here in the Provo MTC right now, 30% to 40% will be out and in the field to participate in ‘Light The World,’” President LeSueur said.

The evening was to conclude with another devotional program featuring Christmas music and the turning on of Christmas lights at the MTC, Sister LeSueur said.

Sarah Davila, public relations manager for Feeding Children Everywhere, calculated the impact of the projected 350,000 meal kits of Thai noodles. “This will feed 140,000 families — and just from two hours or so of volunteer service,” she said.

“And it’s not just that, but the enthusiasm of the missionaries,” she added. “They were so excited the second they walked in, with no complaints about wearing hairnets and happy to serve the community.”

And, for the first year, meal kits prepared by the MTC missionaries will be available for no-cost home delivery through the organization’s new Full Cart distribution service.

For Sister Stephanie Minaker — from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and departing next week for her Mandarin-speaking assignment in the England Manchester Mission — Thursday marked her second Thanksgiving away from home, since Canada’s such holiday was celebrated a month earlier.

But she didn’t mind, and cited the service project as a worthy alternative to the holiday.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to serve people,” she said, explaining that training in the MTC often focuses on teaching individuals. “So it’s great to be involved in serving in a larger-scale project and helping people in need.”

Elder Seth Villagomez — from South Jordan, and bound for the Germany Berlin Mission and to proselytize in Mandarin as well — said a normal Thanksgiving for him would be spent at home with food and family. But he is in the MTC this year, and his family is vacationing in Italy — and that’s OK.

And he was OK with providing an indirect service to people he would never meet — individuals and families in the United States facing hunger concerns who would consume meals from kits he helped prepare, while at the same time he would be serving in Europe.

“As a missionary, that’s my job,” he said, “to help other people receive joy.”