Kona’s homeless grateful for free holiday meal, fellowship
John Rathbun sat on Kailua Pier late Sunday afternoon, eating a free turkey dinner with all the fixings while surrounded by friends and old acquaintances. Between mouthfuls, he shared his gratitude for the numerous acts of kindness that often go unnoticed daily in this small town and spoke proudly about how people here still look out for one another.
Glancing around, Rathbun smiled when upon noticing the tremendous turnout. While waiting in line for food, more than 100 people who are needy or homeless or just had nowhere to go talked story and shared laughs among each other, as well as with the volunteers filling their plates. This elaborate Easter meal, organized by the Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity, provided a brief, but meaningful and welcome respite from the hardships many of them are enduring.
“It’s a beautiful thing when the community comes together like this,” said Rathbun, 49, who has been homeless for a year. “The church has helped us a lot, and to them, I say, ‘Bless your heart. I’ll see you in heaven someday.’ Besides providing these meals, which we are grateful for, they have given us Band-Aids and first aid kits, which we share with others, to take care of cuts and bruises. They also listen to us and treat us like human beings. Events like this are an reminder that human humanity exists and to never give up or lose hope.”
The meal was part of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity’s Help Everyone Regardless of Outcome, or HERO, and Making Change for Change Ministries, which strive to address some of the basic needs of the homeless population found along Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona. For more than a year, the church has been providing “blessings,” such as meals, gift cards, clothing, linens, and hygiene and first aid kits, on an informal basis.
Sunday’s meal was about renewal and reaching out to folks who need it most, Rev. Lawrence Hand said.
“We offer help. Our goal is only to try to make their life a little better,” Hand said. “The best part has been seeing our church members and our brothers and sisters in need connect with one another. They are forming relationships, learning who they are and discovering they have so many things in common. These are real people. They can be just as funny, sweet and difficult as us. They just need some help, and we’re willing to give what we can.”
Cindy Hill, HERO and Making Change for Change Ministries leader, explained how the effort began with a couple of gift cards and four coins placed in her palm by a young church member. From this humble beginning, the congregation began using whatever contributions the church received to help this population when possible. Sometimes, this meant buying a few pizzas and distributing the slices one-by-one to those in need while walking down Alii Drive one afternoon. Other times, it was organizing a big feast, with the help of various donors, businesses and community organizations.
At the beginning of this year, the church received a $5,000 Economic Outreach Bridge Grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation. It will use the funds to continue its meals and outreach work, but hopefully on a more regular schedule, Hill said.
Hand expressed gratitude to Costco for donating 20 turkeys, which church members cooked and served Sunday. There were also numerous homemade desserts and dishes. First aid kits and plastic eggs filled with candy were later handed out.
A regular contributor to the church’s cause has been Body Glove Cruises, which provided the tents and beverages for the Easter feast. Body Glove Cruises President Maggie Brown said her company routinely donates leftover food from its cruises to local homeless shelters and those who might want or need it. To her, donating the still-edible food to organizations that feed the hungry just makes sense.
To get involved or for more information, call the church at 329-5733 or visit konalutheranchurch.com.