A seat at the table

KEALAKEHE — Fifty-one Wednesdays of the year, volunteers from local churches, civic clubs and other organizations come to Kealakehe Intermediate School for the weekly Meet and Eat to serve hearty meals to more than 100 local residents — many of them children.

But on one Wednesday, the evening before Thanksgiving, the night is a celebration of the volunteers themselves, those people Ardaven “Ardie” Ikeda, coordinator of the Kona Task Force on Feeding the Hungry, credits with making the dinners possible.

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“I’ve never called myself anything other than a coordinator, because that’s pretty much what I do,” Ikeda said Wednesday evening outside the school cafeteria. “I program the thing and I get things going, but the volunteers are the ones that make the program work. And without the volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to do a program like this.”

That tradition of celebrating the program’s volunteers continued Wednesday night when hundreds of community members and volunteers came together to share a traditional Thanksgiving meal, all of them sitting down at tables with those they’ve served throughout the year.

One minute, volunteers were serving up portions of turkey, rice, mashed potatoes, stuffing and other sides to guests as they filed past; the next they were in line themselves being served up their own dinner with a smile and some kind conversation.

But it wasn’t just the volunteers who were being recognized. At the end of this year, Ikeda is preparing to retire from coordinating the weekly meals, making Wednesday his last Thanksgiving since he first got involved 26 years ago.

“He never ever, ever asked for anything in return,” Kahikina Ching said at the start of the dinner. “It was always him giving to somebody else.”

Ikeda was also recognized with a certificate from the Hawaii County Council for his efforts feeding the local community.

Terry Terada, scoutmaster of Troop 15, said he wanted the troop’s scouts to see Ikeda as a model of service.

“One thing that I want to point out to the boys is that Ardie has been doing this for 26 years,” he said. “And he doesn’t expect anything in return.”

Ikeda’s efforts, he said, demonstrate that life is about giving and giving back.

“He epitomizes the way that I’d like my scouts to act and to think,” Terada said.

Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise past president Mike Fraser said the Meet and Eat program is an important one for the community and also one the Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise “loves to help out with.” He said the club is currently exploring ways to keep the program going after Ikeda retires.

Without it, he said, “some of these kids would go without meals.”

For those who came together to share in the special meal, the program is a blessing for the community. To Gloria Holmes, it felt “like a Thanksgiving moment.”

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“It’s really nice to get together with people you don’t even know,” she said. “It’s a big blessing. It really is. It’s beautiful.”

Ikeda said they’ll be continuing their bagged rice pyramid for The Food Basket until Christmas. He said the organization has so far collected more than 1,200 pounds of rice and has set a goal to collect a total of 2,000 pounds.

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