Imu sizzles now even in a drizzle
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
KAILUA — The Kailua High School imu has cooked thousands of turkeys in all kinds of weather over the years, but thanks to many volunteers and donors the popular fundraiser is no longer completely at the mercy of the wind and rain.
With $3,000 in seed money left over from previous imu fundraisers, $2,700 in cash donations and $28,902 in donated material and equipment, about 100 volunteers built two shelters, one over the underground oven and the other over a distribution area. Counting the donated labor, organizers estimate the shelters to be a $120,000 effort, to which 52 businesses and organizations contributed money or material.
The 10-month project involved skilled laborers, students, parents and school supporters, many of them former students.
In November, they plan to cook 300 trays of food for $15 each to benefit the school's athletic program.
Storms have always been a concern to the Thanksgiving fundraiser. Since 1993, students have labored for days to prepare a traditional Hawaiian imu and invited the public to bring their turkeys, meats and other morsels to be smoke-cooked overnight. Hundreds of people pay for the kalua turkey dinner each year.
At least once the Thanksgiving event was canceled because of a storm. Todd Hendricks, a retired marine-science teacher who spearheaded the project, said a storm five or six years ago had the students thinking about building the shelter.
"We never even got around to lighting the fire," said Hendricks, who started the imu fundraisers for his Marine Science Boating and Polynesian Voyaging Program, which included a trip to New Zealand for his students. Back then his students had five or six cookouts a year and charged $10 for a large tray of food.
After they were rained out, it took a month for students to clean up the pit, which was full of water, wet paper and wood, and get it ready for the makeup cookout, Hendricks said.
"Out of the 160 trays only two people wanted their money back," he said.
The new shelters will make it possible to withstand light storms but probably not a torrential downpour, Hendricks said.
"If there's a mean, miserable big storm, you're sitting here in the pouring rain and you've got 400 trays and we're working in the mud. We still would have to call it off," he said.
Kayla Ueki, a Kailua High senior, said students in the ethnic studies program fired up the imu for the Fourth of July and they were surprised at the amount of work involved, including putting up a tarp over the food distribution area. The new shelter means less work, but there still is plenty to do, Ueki said.
The ethnic studies students had to raise $600 each to go to New Zealand in November and they conducted several fundraisers, including the imu and a Pizza Hut campaign that was easier and made Ueki lots of money, she said.
"But the imu was fun and it brought us together as a class," Ueki said. "It strengthened our team, our values and our team-work."
RAISING THE ROOF
The project includes a 17-foot-high hip roof over the 24- by 24-foot structure that covers the imu, and there is a 20- by 88-foot shed roof over a concrete slab that is used for setup and distribution. Volunteers have been working since December on weekends and after work, said Glen Wakamatsu, a carpenter who supervised the project.
The volunteers included former Kailua High School students, apprenticeship program students from the carpenters' and masons' unions and engineers from Hickam Air Force Base, said Wakamatsu, a 1963 Kailua graduate who has known Hendricks for years and whose daughter was a student of Hendricks.
The project required watching the pennies and solving problems without the usual equipment and material at hand, he said, but Hendricks was able to keep up with the needs.
"Todd is the one who hustled everything," Wakamatsu said. "Without him it wouldn't be here."
The project was particularly pleasurable and the volunteers made it that way, he said, adding that he tried not to ask the same people to come to help each time but soon a core group was showing up on work days.
"It was like a family, one big family," Wakamatsu said. "After a few hours everybody became a friend."
Suppliers such as Tileco Inc. and Honsador Lumber LLC said they are happy to help when they can and Hendricks made it easier because he had volunteers who knew the construction business and were able to work with suppliers who had surplus material that contractors can't use, said Terry Englett, president of Honsador Lumber LLC.
"That's what we did with this project," said Englett. "We had a little of this and a little of that and they were able to make it work."
KOKUA FOR KALUA
The roof still needs to be completed but the imu was tested on Oct. 21. Temperature readings were taken and Wakamatsu said the vent in the ceiling would have to be widened.
Some 13 men were there tending the fire and preparing canvas sheets, banana stock and burlap bags for the imu, including Victor Olivera Jr., Kailua Class of 1990, who was on the project from the beginning. Another one of Hendricks' former students, Olivera was cutting up big chunks of pork to cook in the imu. Anyone who had contributed to the project was invited to bring food to cook that day.
The smell of the burning kiawe wood filled the air with the promise of smoky meat the following morning.
Olivera, an equipment operator for the city, said he did the work for Hendricks and the kids.
"Basically he's giving back and I'm helping him," he said. "Other than that this is my chance where I can cook."
SHARING THE SHELTER
When first initiated, the imu cookouts funded Hendricks' program but since then other school groups also have benefited, including the athletic program. Now the baseball team and riflery team members will benefit from the shelter over the distribution area. The baseball team will use it for potlucks after their games, and the riflery team can practice in the shade.
Carolyn Thom said she has been taking her turkey to the imu for years and enjoys the moist smoked meat she gets back each time. Preparing the turkey is easy, Thom said, adding that she just uses butter and rock salt.
"When we took it out it just fell off the bone," she said. "It's so wonderful."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at email@example.com.