Holiday needs go beyond dinner on Thanksgiving
By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor
The people who operate helping agencies are grateful for this seasonal rise of spirit. But they also have to contend with a painful reality: As they say in the Salvation Army Corps, "Need knows no season."
So it is that the Salvation Army has more than 800 people signed up to volunteer for their annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall so many that they are turning would-be helpers away. But last year they had to pay people to serve as bell ringers in their annual holiday giving campaign, and this year they're recruiting desperately again for the drive, which begins Nov. 23 and continues through Christmas Eve.
"Bless their hearts, everybody feels good about serving people who are needy and going through challenges, and they want to share a bit of their Thanksgiving," said Salvation Army public relations director Daniel De Castro. "Unfortunately, it all happens in one day, and we can't accommodate everyone who would like to volunteer." The dinner is one very visible event, serving 2,500 people, but the Salvation Army assists thousands of people a year in a wide variety of other programs, including addiction treatment, adult daycare, family treatment, a women's shelter and senior low-income housing.
The coins and bills that cascade into those kettles at the holiday season are vital to that work; last year, $450,000 was raised in Hawai'i, but pay for the bell ringers cut into the proceeds. "We try to look at it in a positive way, that we're actually employing people who are unemployed or underemployed, but we would rather use volunteers."
At the Institute for Human Services, public relations and volunteer services coordinator Catherine Graham enthusiastically describes the annual Thanksgiving extravaganza put on for homeless-shelter clients annually by Hilton Hawaiian Village employees, who bring everything from food to tablecloths, centerpieces and entertainment down for the day. "They turn the men's shelter into a ballroom," she said, admiringly.
But then Graham notes that there's still no group signed up to do Christmas dinner (they need teams of 10 for everyday meals; more for the holiday). And they rely on volunteers to serve the three daily meals every day; they employ a cook but, when there are no volunteers, shelter employees have to leave other tasks to help receive food donations, serve food, wash dishes and organize the pantry.
And they always need toiletries single-size shampoo and conditioner packages, razors, shaving cream, deodorant, first-aid articles such as adhesive bandages. "I know," she says, "it's not real sexy, but it's what our clients need."
At the River of Life Mission, operations director Merrie Susan Marchant is still trying to find volunteers for two of four shifts for Thanksgiving Day, but she knows they'll turn up because they always do at this time of year. It's the rest of the year that can be tricky.
For the Thanksgiving meal, Safeway and Costco already have promised the pies and someone has donated cranberries. But they're going to need turkeys, potatoes, bread and such.
"We just depend on the Lord to send them to us, and every year He does, somehow," Marchant said. River of Life needs 12- to 14-pound turkeys (their ovens aren't too large) and they would like to have them in house by Nov. 25, the Monday of Thanksgiving week, or Tuesday at the very latest, so they can thaw the birds as necessary and sort them for roasting or giving.
River of Life provides two kinds of assistance: grocery boxes for families, and the meal served at the facility in Chinatown. More than 250 people have asked for Thanksgiving boxes, and 300 or more turkeys are needed, Marchant said.
As for the rest of the year, Marchant can reel off the agency's Top 10 list of needs from memory:
- Sacks of rice of any size.
- Canned protein (corned beef, tuna, Spam, chicken, salmon, ham).
- Socks and underwear ("We get lots of clothes, but everybody just wears their socks and underwear until they fall apart.")
- Laundry detergent.
- Disinfectants and bleach.
- First-aid items such as adhesive bandages and antiseptic spray ("We deal with a lot of people in poor health, who have ailments and infections").
- Paper products such as napkins and towels.
- Trash bags ("the sturdy, 33-gallon ones").
- Disposable cutlery.
- Disposable divided lu'au trays ("We don't have a dishwasher").
River of Life relies on area churches and other groups to send weekly teams of helpers to serve meals but can always use other volunteers.
One event that is a once-a-year project is the largest Thanksgiving feast: 3,500 meals served at 18 locations from Makaha to Pearl City in an effort coordinated by the Ko Olina Community Association, Ko Olina Resort, high school culinary students, area businesses and members of religious congregations. This is the fourth year of the effort, which relies on volunteers to assist with logistics but buys the food with donated cash.