A thanksgiving with aloha

Nearly 400 turkeys were cooked in the Pukalani Community Church of the Nazarene’s Thanksgiving imu, which is a long-standing church effort to feed the needy, the hungry and Maui’s community.

The more than 15-year-old tradition on the church’s grounds in Upcountry Maui is a “huge undertaking,” said Senior Pastor Mark Gudmunson, noting around 100 people volunteer their time to the effort – most from the church along with officials and members of Waipuna Chapel – along with other community members. It also costs the church around $2,500 to put on the imu community event each year.

But, “It’s just the ministry to bless our community,” Gudmunson said earlier this week.

“Jesus said to feed the poor and the orphans. We are trying to fulfill that command,” he said.

Especially during the holidays, one should not forget others, he added.

Gudmunson said the church has cooked 700 turkeys in the past, which may make the Pukalani imu one of the largest ones done on Thanksgiving. The imu is an underground oven that utilizes natural fire from ingredients such as kiawe wood and banana stumps to cook the food. The method was used by Native Hawaiians to cook.

People and donors dropped off turkeys on Wednesday afternoon. The birds then emerged cooked early Thursday morning. Volunteers stayed up all night to watch the underground oven.

On Thursday, 370 turkeys were given back to those from the community who used the imu to assist with their cooking. Another 30 or more turkeys went toward the free Thanksgiving meal the church put on for the needy and the hungry.

The heavy rains over the last few days on Maui may have driven the community even more to bring their turkeys for cooking at the Pukalani church.

“A lot of imus got canceled because of that (rain),” said Pastor Tom Gudmunson, brother of Mark Gudmunson.

Scores of volunteers worked to clear almost two feet of water Wednesday before placing in the hundreds of turkeys in the earth to cook.

But on Thursday, volunteers were busy taking out the turkeys from the imu to return to the lines of people that showed up.

“We started this back in 1990,” said Collette Thomas, mother of Kaipo Thomas, the associate pastor of student ministries at Waipuna Chapel.

Back then it was “averaging about 300 turkeys a year, but this year we have more,” Collette Thomas said.

She added that they are trying to pass the imu tradition down to the next generation so it can continue to feed the hungry.

“(But) as long as I have breath, I’ll be in the hole,” she added.

Mark Gudmunson said some of the turkey from the imu will also go out to the homeless on Saturday who live and frequent the Kihei beaches.

He added that many who bring in a turkey to cook also bring an extra or donate money to the effort.

The church has also received donations from Foodland and Pukalani Superette for the annual imu event.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com. Staff Writer Terrie Eliker contributed to this report.