Caring carried to Maui’s homeless

KIHEI – The Outreach of the Episcopal Churches on Maui and Friends met a little under a year ago searching for a program that would bring their faiths together and push them to be more alive and active within the community.

Their answer officially came Sunday morning with the blessing of their “A Cup of Cold Water” program’s roving Community Care Van, which provides clothing, food and – as the name says -water to the homeless.

“We feel a church that’s not engaged in outreach is a dead church; it’s nothing more than a private club to make each other feel good,” said Pastor Austin Murray, of Trinity-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, while surrounded by about 60 people at the Kihei church. “(The name) is from the Bible: ‘A cup of cold water given in his name will be rewarded.’ That’s the inspiration of the name. The inspiration is biblical.”

The blessing conducted by Murray and John A.H. Tomoso of the Royal Order of Kamehameha was followed by a test run of the van for volunteers. Runs are scheduled for Wednesdays in Central Maui, Saturdays in West Maui and Sundays in South Maui, all from 8 to 11:30 a.m.

The initiative is led by Trinity-by-the-Sea and the three other Episcopal churches on Maui – Good Shepherd Church in Wailuku, Holy Innocents Church in Lahaina and St. John’s Church in Kula.

“As individual churches we’re all pretty small, so we wanted to get together and make a bigger impact,” he said. “With this van we can do that. It’s a very exciting day that we’ve arrived at this point, and to see this all come into fruition is a joy.”

Donations of $15,000 by both the United Thank Offering – the national ministry of the Episcopal Church – and an anonymous donor helped the outreach group purchase the Nissan NV3500 passenger van. A $5,000 gift from the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii paid for the van’s design.

“Those big donations put us over the top,” Murray said. “But the driving force behind this has been Keku (Akana), he keeps it moving.”

Akana, a member of Good Shepherd, is one of six run leaders, or drivers, of the van. He and his wife, Cindy, have worked on the project closely and said that the concept of the service is not new “but a mandate of our faith.”

“The nature of this kind of outreach was never a romantic type of thing,” Akana said. “It’s our responsibility to care for the poor and homeless.”

Mary Lou Mellinger, board secretary for the initiative, agreed with Akana and said that the goal was not to do something they “were comfortable with” but rather it was created to help those suffering from homelessness or drug and alcohol addictions.

“Some people might ask, ‘Why am I doing this, instead of a reading program,'” she said. “(I say) this is where the rubber meets the road.”

About 20 people have already volunteered to ride inside the van during runs and are supported by another group of volunteers handling donated supplies including footwear, blankets, hygiene products and first-aid items. The group’s early run times are due to the availability of volunteers and to avoid overlap with similar programs such as the Salvation Army and St. Theresa Church’s Hale Kau Kau program, which provides daily meals for the hungry in South Maui.

The group also hopes to eventually expand its coverage to Upcountry and East Maui when it has more volunteers and support.

John Decker Jr., volunteer and treasurer with the initiative, has experience in service programs and helped start the Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center in Wailuku about 25 years ago.

The center, which helps single-parent families and others, seeks to “break up the cycle of homelessness” and does not allow drugs, alcohol or violence, he said.

“That program basically says, ‘I’m going to change my life starting this morning’ whereas ‘A Cup of Cold Water’ is sort of a gesture to say that we care,” Decker said.

Although Decker admitted he has become somewhat pessimistic about solving homelessness, he believes the “minimal supply, no-questions-asked” van could change things.

“The operation has already changed the four (Episcopal) congregations and I’m hopeful we’ll change homelessness on Maui,” he said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at