KAILUA-KONA — Two hundred plates, delivered door-to-door — and that was just the southern leg.
While Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill plays host for hundreds of people to enjoy a free Thanksgiving meal, the restaurant off Kuakini Highway in Kailua-Kona also sends out volunteers in waves to deliver meals to the elderly, the homebound or anyone else who can’t make the trip to the restaurant.
And the recipients of those plated piles of turkey, potatoes and pie said they appreciated the delivery tradition that’s part of the annual event.
“Fixings and everything,” said William Hutchin, resident of Nani Olo in Kealakekua, the first stop on the southern leg of the volunteer effort.
He was excited for the meals brought to his door — one for him, his daughter and his ex-wife — because it made the holiday that much easier.
“I wouldn’t cook a turkey myself,” he said. “I’m not much of a cook.”
Down the walkway, Candy Barboza opened her door and let a volunteer place the food on her table.
“You need any help?” she asked as the young man stepped his way through her apartment carrying a tray load. “Don’t trip on anything in here.”
“I think it’s wonderful, kind and generous,” she said after it was delivered. “I know they go to a lot of work and I’m grateful.”
The delivery effort is aided by volunteers from the Salvation Army. This year, 559 plates went out across West Hawaii, a record over last year’s 400. The southern leg — all 200 plates — was led by volunteer Nancy Swartz and her family, who have been doing it for 20-some years. That’s almost as long as her daughters, Paulina Swartz and Kamaile Kahele, have been alive.
“Our motto is just to give. No judgment, no religion, nothing. We just give,” Nancy Swartz said of their upbringing.
Both of her daughters remember starting the tradition when they were barely toddlers, continuing through their teens and now adult years.
Joined by Eric McTague and Jacob Gull, it’s a tradition for the clan, they said, as familiar as turkey itself.
“This is something we get to do together, as a family, because we don’t get to see each other that often,” Paulina Swartz said. “But we always expect to see each other every Thanksgiving.”
As a kid, walking up to strangers’ doors can be intimidating, Kahele said. But now, she thinks delivery is the most rewarding role. The real work is done by the people in the kitchen, preparing and boxing hundreds of meals. Those hard workers might not get to see the fruits of their labor as easily as the delivery crew — namely smiles.
“We get the best part,” she said. “We see the faces.”
At Hale Hookipa, the second stop in the three-stop southern swing, Thanksgiving was underway at the housing complex like everywhere else. Voices of the football game announcers drifted through open windows.
“Blessed, blessed,” resident Mr. Bray called out after Kahele handed him his dish.
Inside his apartment, he reflected a bit more.
He’s lived there nine years, has seen neighbors pass away and in his older age he’s learned not to take one moment for granted.
“We all appreciate it immensely. We’re all on budgets — tight budgets, most of us,” he said. “When you’re faced with your own mortality every day, you learn to be more appreciative, I think. So these folks coming by and sharing, it’s just an extra cherry on top.”