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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving outreach feeds hundreds in Honolulu's Chinatown

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

John Keliikoa, right, receives food at Sharon Black's annual Thanksgiving feast at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park in Chinatown.

Photos by REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

From left, Sarah Niau, 21, Kristin Bertelmann, 24, and Rebecca Soon, 22, were part of the dozens of volunteers helping feed the hungry.

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"My friends at Central Union came through this year with more than 30 hams. Not to mention yams and stuffing and countless pies."

Donna Rewick | Volunteer from Central Union Church

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One way to gauge the number of people who show up two days after Thanksgiving to stuff their bellies at Sharon Black's annual feast at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park (formerly Chinatown Gateway Park), is by measuring how far around the block the food line stretches.

Last year, for example, the line snaked along Hotel Street between Bethel and Nu'uanu and wrapped around the corner, stopping short of Indigo restaurant, about a quarter of the way up the block. That crowd, estimated at 800, was said to be the largest ever.

Yesterday's line-up reached all the way to Indigo restaurant and then some.

Not that Black was counting. She didn't care how many showed up. The more the merrier, as far as she's concerned. Somehow her Kau Kau Wagon load of volunteers would feed every single hungry person who showed up. And, if Bill Gates ever decided to join the party, they would feed him, too. Nobody gets turned away. Everybody gets all they can eat. That's the rules. It's not an option.

"We have all imu turkey this year," said Black, who worked the crowd, handing out hugs and well wishes.

She credited volunteer Norma Acob with turning the imu underground oven idea into a reality. By early yesterday morning, Acob had dozens of 15-pound birds cooking in the pits.

"This is a first we've never had imu before," said Black, who delights in upgrading the event whenever possible. Last year she added live music.

For Black, who was once homeless herself, feeding multitudes is second nature. She's been doing it with sandwiches at the park three Saturdays a month for two decades.

The Thanksgiving of Hope tradition turkey, dressing, ham, yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, pumpkin pie, ice cream and cake kicked off a dozen years ago.

To those getting fed, it bordered on the miraculous. For those in wheelchairs or who were disabled, teams of volunteers delivered meals with all the trimmings to where they sat. Other volunteers moved through the waiting lines, handing out apples, oranges and cookies to tide people over until they reached the serving tables.

"I'm hungry," said one woman, who gave her name as Moe, and was nevertheless all smiles as she stood near the end of the line.

Like others in the rear, she worried that the food might run out before she reached the front of the line. But Jennifer Roberts, with a group of volunteers from an all-woman motorcycle club known as Dangerous Curves, told Moe she had nothing to worry about.

Meanwhile, Donna Rewick, one of dozens of volunteers from Central Union Church, was encouraging those waiting to be patient although that was easier said than done.

Last year Rewick's church faction was proud to bring in 16 hams. This year they smashed their own record.

"My friends at Central Union came through this year with more than 30 hams," said Rewick. "Not to mention yams and stuffing and countless pies and even a 6-foot inflatable turkey."

Clarence "Uncle Woody" Woodhouse, the very last person in line, expressed his gratitude for everyone who had worked to prepare the day's cornucopia of food. At the same time he lamented the loss of one who didn't make it to the meal this season his old friend, Will Hill, known as "Cowboy Willie" to those who had seen him at virtually every previous Thanksgiving feast in the park.

Hill, an entertainer who possessed a baritone voice Morgan Freeman would envy and a perpetual spirit of cheer, passed away at the age of 62 in August.

"He was always positive," said Woodhouse. "Never had a bad thing to say about anyone."

Back at the front of the line, Black was wondering how much longer she could continue to feed the growing multitudes of homeless people. She's not getting any younger, she explained. She hoped to turn the Kau Kau Wagon over to her son, Chez, one of these years, she said.

And that apparently would be fine with her son, who said he's been involved with the Kau Kau Wagon for so long, he couldn't imagine anything he'd rather do.

"I've been doing this since I had a little red wagon," said Chez Black, who was also moving through the throng, making sure everybody was getting fed. "I'm 25 now. This is my cup of tea."

"I'll admit, though, I've got big shoes to fill."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.