Volunteers treat kupuna to a memorable Thanksgiving luncheon
LAHAINA – Lahaina is a community of backyard traditions, all year long – the Boarders, the “L,” the whales, bon dances in the summer and Halloween on Front Street.
Lucky we live here; there’s something for everyone.
Thanksgiving is no different; and, one of the warmest West Side customs at this time of the year is the Salvation Army Kupuna Thanksgiving Luncheon.
It’s stuffed with all kinds of traditions.
“In the early ’80s, my mother, Inez Lively, started the Thanksgiving Luncheon at Pi’ilani Senior Housing. There were just about 20 people that came then. Uncle Manu Kahaialii and myself, Vidella Nagasaki, were the music, the entertainment,” Vidella reminisced.
“My mom and dad made the turkeys then,” Vidella added.
Daughter of Ray and Inez Lively, Vidella was the Salvation Army (SA) envoy in Lahaina for 16 years, retiring in 2016. She is married to Kevin Nagasaki, an active envoy of the Lahaina Corps.
Her mom, Inez, was the Social Services secretary. Today, that important job falls on the shoulders of Rita Lei Medina (for the past eight years).
She is the family services and administrative assistant for the Lahaina Lighthouse Corps.
“My job responsibilities include administrative support to the office operations and corps statistician,” Rita advised.
The key word here is “include.” Rita is an adept multi-tasker.
This powerhouse, from her small office amidst the congregation of SA buildings on Shaw Street, orchestrates the annual dinner.
“Certain tasks fall on the administrative assistant naturally,” Rita explained, “and those tasks are second nature for me anyways. As the years come and go, I have built a relationship with many of the kupuna who receive kokua through our senior programs, and that really is a huge motivator for me. I know the struggles many of them live with. It is a joy for me to be able to give back.”
There are a lot of helping hands that bring the turkey to the table for our venerable elders; it’s an iconic example of giving back, warming the start of our West Side holiday season each year.
The Salvation Army’s Women’s Home League (WHL) is responsible for the creative dcor in the banquet room.
Bess Sterling and Rhonda Park contributed with vases overflowing with origami flowers, and Ana Maria Tufuga, Rhonda and Malia donated the tabletop orbed arrangements, Rita said.
No small task, Kevin Nagasaki cooked the turkeys.
“He broke a stove this year,” Vidella confided. “He had to get a brand new one delivered before he could finish cooking them.”
There is more on the dish than just the tasty bird; that’s where the hotels step up to the plate with scoops of stuffing, mashed potatoes and slices of pumpkin pie.
“We are blessed to have the support and partnerships with Kaanapali Beach Hotel, Leilani’s on the Beach and the Hyatt Regency Maui, who kokua this event annually. Among others who have given kokua in years past are The Westin Hotel, Koa’s Seaside Grill and The Bakery,” Rita commented.
Dressed in their Thanksgiving best, 125 kupuna attended the 2018 feast.
“To see the same people every year, and you catch up with ’em… it’s exciting and fun,” Vidella described.
The entertainment lineup included hula dancers and inspirational singer Rachel Melfe. Emcee was Kahu Allen Haia from His Grace Ministries.
Na keiki from Maui Music Mission livened up the hall with their ukulele performances and upbeat songs.
Volunteers were ever-present. Kupuna were served.
“We have been blessed with repeat volunteers volunteers from His Grace Ministries, Friends of Salvation Army and holiday regulars from out of town who know of the annual event. I never worry about kokua for this event. This year, there were about 20 volunteers sharing their time with us,” Rita observed.
Door prizes were a huge part of the morning activities.
It was a philanthropic discharge from the business sector of our community. The list was impressive, even for Lahaina. There was a plethora of certificates from local restaurants and grocery stores, haircuts, micro-plush blankets, flannel sheets, slow cookers, plush bath towel sets, memory foam bath mats, oven mitts, tea kettles, toaster ovens, desk lamps, submarine boat rides, trips to Lanai and tickets to a magic show.
“Everyone got a prize,” Vidella exclaimed.
Rita is proud: “We are a strong, loving and giving community. Many respond annually without hesitation and generously.”
At the end of the morning, when asked what makes the Salvation Army Kupuna Thanksgiving Luncheon special, there was no hesitation in Rita’s response.
“The warmth, love and good company that comes from gathering around a good meal is awesome; sitting and talking with our kupuna is a very simple form of love. They feel appreciated with the invitation to a party just for them, and they are comforted by the atmosphere and seeing familiar faces again.
“Many take the time at the end of the event to reach out for a hug and say, ‘Mahalo, thank you for a wonderful time.’ And that’s what gets me started on the next year’s event,” Rita said, matter-of-fact.