When Cheryl Mounteer shows up at Sam’s Club, it’s a good idea not to get behind her in line.

She’s the one with the two huge box trucks parked outside and multiple carts stacked high with thousands of packets of oatmeal, juice cups, fruit snacks, granola bars, crackers, applesauce and, on average, about 24,000 boxes of Easy Mac.

It’s not because she’s some kind of extravagant prepper, or she has the world’s largest family, or an abnormal fondness for Easy Mac.

It’s because Cheryl is the director of Operation Conquer Hunger — and it’s her job to regularly purchase enough food so that hungry kids don’t leave school Friday afternoon with little to nothing to eat over the weekend.

The Operation Conquer Hunger campaign began 10 years ago when a man named Trevor Farnes started a company that sells nutritional supplements and outdoor gear called MTN OPS.

Because earlier in life, Trevor and his wife, Jenna, had themselves been recipients of welfare food assistance due to a business deal gone bad, they vowed that when they got back on their feet, they were going to do likewise.

When they opened MTN OPS, they made a commitment that for every transaction they would provide a meal for someone in need. They chose students to be the beneficiaries when they learned that 1 in every 4 school kids in Davis County experiences some kind of food insecurity.

In the beginning, no one would have been surprised if few kids got fed.

On paper, the business seemed iffy. MTN OPS’s target audience was the outdoor hunting crowd — people who tend to be rugged, independent-minded individualists, not the usual sort who buy supplements.

Meal kits are stacked at MTN OPS in Fruit Heights on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. MTN OPS has donated millions of meals to those in need through Operation Conquer Hunger. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“They’re not working out in Gold’s Gym, they’re working out in God’s gym,” is how Trevor describes his clientele.

But besides just selling nutrition, MTN OPS marketed a way of life, adding a goal-setting, moral-compass element to the mix, inside and outside the company, emphasizing core values like trust, gratitude, ownership, interdependence, recognizing God and, of course, service.

“God-fearing, truck-driving, gun-loving people, that’s our audience” says Trevor, “it resonates with them when they see us living the core values that are extremely important to us. They’re not just words on a wall, and when people feel that they want to get involved. They want to grab onto the good that is happening.”

English translation: turns out the customers want to feed hungry kids too. And they’re the ones paying for the meals.

In its first seven years, MTN OPS produced 3 million meals. In the past three years, as sales have continually increased, it’s produced 3 million more.

A majority of the meals are assembled at large events, where MTN OPS employees, customers and supporters come together to produce the pantry packs that are in turn distributed to area schools.

Each pantry pack contains food for five meals, enough basic sustenance to get a hungry kid from Friday night to Monday morning.

Administrators at the schools determine who is in need of the assistance and hand out the pantry packs Friday afternoon.

At the mega events, as many as 60,000 meals are put together in under two hours.

That’s where Cheryl Mounteer comes in. Almost ever since Trevor hired her as his executive assistant nearly 10 years ago, she’s been overseeing the logistics of Operation Conquer Hunger.

“I never would have envisioned this journey,” says Cheryl, who thought she was just signing on to answer the phone and help Trevor keep track of his schedule.

Now, she’s in charge of organizing as many as a dozen large events a year, both in Utah and other sites throughout the country. She determines how much food is needed, where it’s available, how to pick it up, where it needs to be delivered and how many people will be necessary to put it all together.

To purchase the food, she usually works with Sam’s Club, Walmart’s big-box warehouse retailer. On a typical operation, she rents two big box trucks — she drives one of them — and backs up to the Sam’s Club loading dock, where food for 60,000 meals fills up the trucks.

“They usually load it for us,” says Cheryl, who smiles and confesses her purchasing power tends to get her first-class attention: “They know I carry a credit card, and it’s a powerful one.”

In the end, “I’m grateful every single day for what I get to do: I get to help feed hungry children,” says Cheryl. “It’s a fun, very rewarding job. But it can also be challenging.”

Like the time in Charleston, South Carolina, when the local Sam’s Club told her they were out of Easy Mac.

That’s no small problem. Since two of the five meals in the pantry packs contain Easy Mac, that meant she needed to find 24,000 packets.

What did Cheryl do?

“I started calling Costco,” she says. “I finally found enough mac ’n cheese to fulfill the order, just in time for Sam’s Club to call back and say they’d found the missing Easy Macs.”

“Things always work out,” says Trevor. “We liken it to the loaves and fishes story in the Bible. That has been our inspiration from the start. It’s amazing what happens when people come together to serve. There’s a lot more to it than just food.”

Trevor Farnes, MTN OPS CEO and co-founder, shows MTN OPS products at MTN OPS in Fruit Heights on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News