LANAI CITY - At least an hour before local visitor industry leaders distributed free frozen turkeys and corpulent bags of rice Saturday morning, residents of this tightknit island community were lined up for a block up Lanai Avenue.
With a Lanai resident population of just 2,500, the giveaway - which gets bigger every year - is believed to be enough food to supply an 11-pound bird and 5 pounds of the favored side staple, Homai Rice, for every Lanai family, organizers from a dozen government agencies, nonprofits and businesses said. Trilogy Excursions and the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association gave away 1,000 turkeys and 1,000 bags of rice, respectively, for the holidays.
And with privately owned Lanai's almost exclusive tourism-based economy still in the dumps and unemployment hovering around double digits, residents said they were very thankful for the Thanksgiving Day help.
Dolores Fabrao, of Lanai City, embraces Jim Coon of Trilogy Excursions after picking up her free turkey and rice Saturday morning in Lanai City.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
With the combination of donations and community services, such as free health screening, environmental educational children's games and college extension class information, the morning outside Lanai City Service Station was part all-in-one social outreach and town party.
Barely five minutes seemed to go by without two neighbors, friends or family members happily exclaiming, "Hey, how are you?"
"This is a two-way street," said elementary school teacher Dolores Fabrao. "The businesses rely on us, and we rely on them. Times are tough for a lot of us. But we are a compassionate community. We give them (businesses) our love and they are doing us a good service."
Trilogy Excursions co-owners Jim and Rand Coon started the tradition about 20 years ago by giving turkeys first to their employees and next to their best customers, Jim Coon said. As the company grew, he said, he knew he had an opportunity to do more for Lanai, which has given his family so much.
"We realized that in a community this small, everybody is our customer, so our big dream has been to give back to the entire community," said Jim Coon, whose company also owns pleasure vessels, the island's only gas station and a few other Lanai businesses.
Language barriers or the taboo of unemployment, whether it's an individual's or the worldwide recession's fault, kept many from wanting to talk publicly about the event. Several people in line would only say a quiet, "Thank you," to the organizers.
"Times aren't so bad," said bank maintenance man John Kapilii.
When asked about the giveaway, he said: "It's all right. I guess it's for giving them all of our business."
Another maintenance man, Alan Amby of the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, said that the giveaway will provide meat over the holidays for some who would otherwise go without.
"A lot of people are working, but they're not working nearly as many hours as they used to," Amby said.
Retired Koele Lodge food and beverages department employee Alan Fernandez said it's great when someone gives back during tough times. He said the donations are much appreciated, even if for a lot of families they will probably still have to get a second bird to feed everyone.
"It's been cut, cut, cut for the past year and half," said Fernandez, who will try to pick up some work over the busier holiday season. "For a lot of us, full time is now just a four-hour shift."
Jim Coon said he was embarrassed by any media attention. He was careful to say that Saturday was not public relations.
"It's just about helping the community," he said. "To me, this is the most fun we have all year."
Other event partners on Saturday included University of Hawaii Maui College, Lanai Community Health Center, Aloha House and Malama Family Recovery Center, a few different Maui County departments and Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
"We just feel blessed to be able to do this," said nurse Val Janikowski shortly before she began offering free measurements of vital signs for residents.
And county Recycling Section employee Cecile Andrews gave away 850 reusable bags donated by local companies. She made sure to put a bag in people's hands and tell them about the plastic bag ban ordinance that takes effect in January.
Dan Regan, director of the federally funded UH-Maui College Rural Development Project, brought a survey in which he asked residents what new job skills they'd like to learn at the college's Lanai Education Center. Tourism unemployment continues to be "terrible," he said, and compared today's layoffs and reduced shifts to when the pineapple growers left Lanai more than 15 years ago.
"These groups don't have a lot of money for outreach," Jim Coon said. "But they can reach a lot of people in just half a day."
The Maui Hotel & Lodging Association plans to give away another 1,000 rice bags on Molokai on Dec. 4 during the "Happy Holidays Molokai Style" event, and the association delivered to the Maui Food Bank another 3,000 bags of rice, which can be picked up at any time.
"We're just riding Trilogy's coattails," said Carol Reimann, executive director of the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, whose members employ about 10,000 county residents.
About an hour after the first bag of goodies was passed out Saturday, the pallets of rice and turkey were empty.
"I love it. I love it," said Lanai native Albert Ranis Jr., who is the Molokai operations manager for Young Brothers, which transported the food for free along with Island Movers and Lanai Trucking. "I think half the island was here today."
Costco had provided the rice at cost, Reimann said. She wondered aloud what next to add, hopefully with Costco's or someone else's help.
Reimann said she wants side dishes that aren't too expensive or heavy for shipping.
"I love green bean casserole, but the cans are heavy. Same with yams, canned or fresh. Maybe real cranberries?" she said appearing to settle on the idea.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.