West Maui steps up to continue tradition

With Hard Rock Cafe gone, the community bands together to put on 28th annual feast for those in need

Ten-year-old Faith May arranges flowers while volunteering at the Thanksgiving Feast at King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina on Thursday. The Maui News / LIILA FUJIMOTO photo

LAHAINA — With help from businesses, organizations and a few hundred volunteers, a Thanksgiving tradition continued at a new location in West Maui.

About 250 people were served traditional turkey dinners Thursday at King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina for the 28th annual Thanksgiving Feast for the homeless, hungry or anyone else needing a helping hand.

The change in location came after the Hard Rock Cafe, which had hosted the event, closed in December.

“We wanted to make sure that the Hard Rock tradition continued,” said Joanna Stockham, a board member for LahainaTown Action Committee. “It’s all about the giving.”

She and Ryan Beenken, general manager of Beach Bum’s BBQ & Island Grill, were facilitators for this year’s feast, with LahainaTown Action Committee taking on sponsorship of the event. The organization’s director, Katarina Tualemoso, “was all in” when the idea came up, Stockham said.

Volunteers Kristinia Alger (left) and Wendy Laurel serve up plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and yams on Thursday at the annual Thanksgiving Feast at King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina.

She and Beenken reached out to the community, drawing donations of food and money from more than a dozen businesses, and generating a turnout of a few hundred volunteers.

“In the past, Hard Rock did it all,” said Beenken, who had been sales and marketing manager at the Hard Rock Cafe before it closed. “We had to reach out to all the restaurants.”

Captain Jack’s Island Grill provided the turkey, Beach Bum’s made the stuffing, and Fleetwood’s on Front St. gave the mashed potatoes and gravy. The yams were from Pioneer Inn, the green beans came from Maui Brewing Co. and the cranberry sauce and butter were donated by Round Table Pizza.

Other donations came from three Rotary Clubs, which provided pies, paper goods and money; Starbucks, which provided the coffee; Maui Grill, Tropic Wailea and Ka’anapali Collision.

“The food is delicious,” said Wilfred Kin Choy Sr., who was working on finishing his meal. “I love the people.”

He said he pushed a shopping cart to the feast and had plenty of room for a bag of fruit and dinner rolls that volunteers gathered for him.

“It’s pretty tremendous,” Beenken said Thursday afternoon, as the four-hour event was winding down. “We have more food than we possibly needed.”

He said leftovers would go to organizations, including the Salvation Army, which run meal programs.

Along with meals, the event included a resource fair with representatives of the Salvation Army, Ka Hale A Ke Ola, Feed My Sheep and A Cup of Cold Water. The organizations offer meals and other services for people in need.

“We definitely got to interact with individuals we feel might come to the shelter,” said Monique Yamashita, CEO of Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers, which has run a shelter in Lahaina since 2005. “This is just amazing to have this type of outreach. I’m always amazed at the west side community because they always take care of each other.”

Throughout the community, flyers had publicized the event for both guests and volunteers.

Two photographers volunteered to take pictures of guests and families.

Organizers noted that the feast wasn’t a buffet. Each guest was escorted into the cafeteria and served by a volunteer, who sat and talked with the person during the meal.

“It’s just amazing how many people from the community showed up to help out,” said Kahana resident Cherise Shulman, who volunteered along with her 13-year-old daughter, Meleiana. “That was a beautiful thing.”

Shane Sinenci made the drive from his home in Hana, leaving at 6:30 a.m. to volunteer with his uncle and two cousins.

“This is teaching the kids to experience people that are less fortunate during this time and just to share,” he said.

Lahaina resident Kristina Alger, a Waiola Church member, helped serve food. “I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving,” she said.

Among those who showed up early to help were 40 students from the National Honor Society at Lahainaluna High School.

They set up the cafeteria tables, which were covered with orange tablecloths and decorated with centerpieces made of flowers and fruit, including donated Maui Gold pineapples. Guests could take the fruit with them after finishing their meals.

Students at other West Maui schools made “blessing bags” for guests filled with items such as toothpaste, shampoo and soap, along with Thanksgiving notes or cards.

There were also backpacks for children. Stockham said the backpack project started with snacks and toys provided by one mom and grew as her friends also wanted to contribute. “The ripple effect — that’s the coolest thing about it,” Stockham said. “Those backpacks are so heavy.”

“For me, the magic of our story is that this is the work of so many hands,” she said. “It’s West Maui taking care of West Maui.”

The day had been mapped out when Stockham awoke at 5 a.m. Thursday and realized she had forgotten about salt and pepper for the meal.

She went to get coffee for herself and breakfast sandwiches for her husband and son at Hawaiian Village Coffee while wondering where she could get salt and pepper. As it turned out, the coffee shop had salt and pepper packets that were donated to the feast.

“It’s been that kind of magic every step of the way,” Stockham said. “Nobody has said no. People have said yes, and they’ve given on top of the yes.”

While attendance was down from the 450 people who showed up at the Hard Rock Cafe last year, Beenken said he expects the feast to grow as more people learn about the new location.

He and Stockham came up with the name West Maui Cares for the volunteer effort.

“I would like to keep that going and continue to do things that care for our community and give back,” Beenken said.

At St. Theresa Church in Kihei, the Hale Kau Kau program prepared and served about 340 Thanksgiving meals. These included 250 meals at the church hall, and 90 delivered to homebound residents, according to volunteer Gail Mitchell. Traditional turkey and stuffing were served, along with salad, fruit and pies. All the food was donated.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.