WAIMEA — Almost two years ago, a dozen or so local residents banded together to feed 100 hungry residents at St. James Episcopal Church’s first community meal. Since then, the weekly event has exploded, dishing up dinner for nearly three times as many people each Thursday night.
On Aug. 30, everyone from Episcopalians to Buddhists to secular volunteers banded together to feed 357 people — 273 adults and children at the church’s outdoor pavilion, while dinner was boxed up and delivered to 84 elderly or homeless people in Waimea and Kawaihae by The Big Island Giving Tree volunteers.
Organized by the church’s community meal committee, the initiative won’t slow down anytime soon. As the number of those in need have grown, St. James has sought financial support from local businesses.
“The first company to sponsor one of the community meals was MacArthur Sotheby’s last spring,” the church’s community meal committee member Jane Sherwood said.
Other companies that have stepped up to the plate are Iris Integrative Health, Elite Realty, Clark Realty, Title Guaranty, Dr. Lori Ann Kim, Rebecca Keliihoomanu, Pau Restaurant and Kipuka o ke Ola Clinic.
One business donates $500 for the weekly meal, and anywhere from six to 12 of their staff members volunteer that evening.
“We’re really hoping we can build up our raft of meal sponsors so that the program can continue to meet so many needs, and even expand to meet others,” Tim Bostock said, one of the church’s other community meal committee members. “We have nine meal sponsors now and hope we can make that 20 before the end of this year.”
The inconspicuous operation, hidden behind a towering eucalyptus tree just off Kawaihae Road, buzzes like a well-oiled machine on Thursdays. The day begins at 10 a.m. when volunteers on the first shift work together prepping food in the church’s kitchen. Cooking begins sometime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., overseen by volunteers Grace Lovig, Sue Dela Cruz, Mel Pobre, Sherwood, Melanie Holt or John Keolanui. By 4 p.m. the next shift of volunteers arrive and are directed to assignments such as boxing meals to go or setting up the buffet.
The $500 is most often used to purchase protein for the meal, Sherwood said. Produce comes regularly from nearby Kawamata Farms and Huluhulu Farms, and as far away as Mother Nature’s Miracle in Paauilo. To round out the meal, Sandwich Isle Bread Company and Mamane Bakery in Waimea contribute baked goods such as baguettes, loaves of multigrain or rye bread and croissants.
St. James has served the free meal almost every Thursday night since the donation and volunteer program began Dec. 15, 2016.
“We have tremendous support from The Big Island Giving Tree to deliver the boxed meals, and hundreds of volunteers and farms in the community to supply our other needs,” Bostock said.
Carol Mendel, branch manager of Title Guaranty’s Kamuela office, admired the effort and wanted to give back.
“I can’t believe how many dishes they serve at the community meals,” she said. “Eleven of our staff showed up Aug. 30 and they allowed us to bring our children to help. It’s a good opportunity to mentor them. The effort is so well organized and we’ll do it again the first semester of next year.”
Keliihoomalu, a real estate broker at Elite Pacific, plans to fund two meals this fall, the first on Sept. 13.
“I love the energy and mix of people who come to this. It’s a real service to the community,” she said. “A number of people go each week to eat, and rely on this. Five hundred dollars is a little money that goes a long way. You really feel like you’re making a difference.”
Dr. Kim, an optometrist in town, heard about the effort from other community members.
“Born and raised in Kohala, I love doing anything I can. What they’re doing is so inspiring and warms my heart,” she said. “My whole office will be there to volunteer Sept 27. With the current environment we live in, it’s great to sit together and put politics, religion, culture and race aside.”
Linda West, a real estate agent with Clark Realty, will join other staff members to sponsor a dinner later this month.
“We see people from all walks of life. It’s a great way for people to meet others in the community that they would not have come in contact with otherwise,” she said. “What we are seeing now is families of several generations coming to enjoy a meal together.”
Organizations interested in sponsoring future community meals can contact Tim Bostock at 382-3290 or email@example.com. Farmers who want to donate produce or protein, and volunteers who’d like to help at any of the dinners, can reach Sue Dela Cruz at 498-7383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.