The belief to “love your neighbor as you would love yourself” is at the core of the Christian faith.

For about 1,100 volunteers at Mount Pleasant Christian Church, this weekend was a chance to embody that teaching to help feed hundreds of thousands of hungry people.

“It’s an opportunity to engage a large amount of volunteers in a short amount of time, and to really reap a benefit that is so large in the span of six or seven hours,” said Heidi Wright, missions and outreach director for the church. “The church could work together and make a big impact.”

People gathered Saturday at Mount Pleasant Christian Church and its three IMPACT campuses in the Old Southside, Fairfax and Bethany neighborhoods of Indianapolis to pack meals in partnership with the organization Pack Away Hunger.

Over the course of a few hours, they packed more than 335,000 meals loaded with rice, soy, dried vegetables, and a nutrient mix rich in iron, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12 to be sent to the church’s mission partner in Cuba.

The day of service was part of Mount Pleasant Christian Church’s “Love Your Neighbor” campaign. Having the opportunity to work together to feed so many was a meaningful way to enter Easter week, Wright said.

“We’re excited to be able to partner and provide something as simple as a meal that we take advantage of in the United States. In Cuba, it’s not that way,” she said.

The Love Your Neighbor campaign is a quarterly initiative providing a variety of service opportunities for members and guests of Mount Pleasant and the IMPACT campuses. Last fall, the church has organized service projects in Indianapolis neighborhoods to help residents and schools.

But the meal packing event remains one of the most important activities they have done, even if it has been three years since they were able to have one, Wright said.

“It’s an event where there’s a broad range of ages that can participate, so families with young children can come. We see moms and dads wear the babies if they need to, we see kids on step-stools. And there’s a broad range of abilities who can take part,” she said.

The meal-packing event was made possible through a partnership with Pack Away Hunger, a Beech Grove-based organization which organizes meal packaging to help reduce hunger and malnutrition locally and around the world.

Through partnerships with different organizations throughout the area, they are able to pack and distribute nutrition-fortified meals, that simply require water, a pot and heat to prepare.

Mount Pleasant has decided that these meals will go entirely to Cuba, where the church works with New Pines Seminary, a school in Santa Clara that focuses on education and community outreach. The organization will work with churches to distribute the meals throughout Cuba, which has been severely impacted by the COVID pandemic, Wright said.

“They told us how there is such a high need for food. There are a lot of issues with people getting food in Cuba, so we knew that as soon as we could, we wanted to send food to them,” she said.

On Saturday morning, volunteers took their places at work stations set up at each of the Mount Pleasant campuses. Some people were in charge of pouring rice and soy into sealable bags, while others added the nutrient mix or dried vegetables.

Volunteers, including a large number of children, stood at the end of the assembly line, sealing the bags, stacking them and placing them in boxes.

Laughter and conversation filled the spaces while people worked. Around them, people moved boxes full of packed meals on flatbed dollies out to be loaded onto a trailer provided by Tradition Transportation Group.

Over the course of the day, more than 1,100 church and community members packed 1,552 boxes of meal packets, which totaled more than 335,000 individual meals, Wright said.

“In Cuba, we’ve had the opportunity to share this food with people in the middle of a huge crisis; a social and economic crisis of a magnitude never seen before. To get to give so many people something to eat has been the opportunity for the church to say, ‘We love you like God has loved us,’” she said. “Our goal in partnering with the mission in Cuba is to provide for peoples tangible needs, such as food and clothing, while pointing them to the life-saving truth of the Gospel.”