Westside soup kitchen to help those ‘on the edge’

HANAPEPE — It was raining outside, and Kelsie Groenleer took advantage of that by “sizing” the different umbrellas used by community representatives who visited the Hanapepe Corps of The Salvation Army Tuesday morning.

Despite the deluge, inside The Salvation Army’s main hall, sun was shining, as Lt. Larry Groenleer proudly showed off the food-establishment permit from officials with the state Department of Health posted prominently on one wall of the Hanapepe kitchen.

“This was a big step,” Groenleer said proudly. “We finally got the food permit.”

The Westside Kokua Kitchen program is nearing the end of a three-year organizational effort, as topping the acquisition of the permit was a G.N. Wilcox Foundation grant that will allow the Hanapepe Salvation Army leaders to finish off the certified kitchen and launch the soup kitchen.

Groenleer said tentatively they are targeting the first week in April as their opening. However, committee members have yet to decide on when the hours will be, or whether they will be serving lunch or dinner.

Aletha Kaohi, a representative of the G.N. Wilcox Foundation, said that Groenleer came into her office at the West Kauai Technology & Visitors Center in Waimea one day, saying, “We need some help.”

Kaohi, who also represents several other foundations, listened to Groenleer’s request, and started the ball rolling to get the $18,500 grant.

Kaohi explained that there have been several other grants from other foundations that have helped the soup kitchen become a reality, one being used to procure the commercial-grade refrigerator which is currently not being used due to the high cost of electricity.

Randall Francisco, president of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce, was keenly interested in the program because of his background in Hanapepe.

Marty Amaro, Hawai‘i sales and marketing representative for Kauai Coffee Company, was also on hand for the presentation.

Groenleer said that Amaro would be providing the coffee for the soup-kitchen program, but more than that, Amaro said he is also interested in serving on the committee as well.

“I think this is something we could work with,” Amaro said. “There are a lot of people on the edge, and having a kitchen on the Westside where they can get hot meals will definitely help them.”

Groenleer said that the Westside Kokua Kitchen will bolster their current food-pantry program, where he said the Hanapepe Salvation Army provides food for about 100 to 150 people weekly.

However, like Mother Hubbard, Groenleer said “the pantry is getting empty.” On Tuesday, the obvious shortage was in canned meats, as just four cans of Vienna sausage remained, along with five cans of Spam Lite.

“When you have a family of eight, you cannot just give them one can,” Groenleer said. “We need help in getting more food.”

Based on these numbers, Groenleer said he anticipates feeding about 100 people weekly at the Westside Kokua Kitchen.

“It will be slow at first,” Groenleer said. “But, hopefully, the word will go out that the food is good, and people will start coming in.”

Groenleer stressed that this program is not just for homeless people. It’s for anyone who just needs to have a hot meal.

There is no money available to hire a kitchen coordinator, so they will probably turn to the U.S. Marine Corps League Kaua‘i members, including Gene Reddin, to help with the initial steps, Groenleer said.

The U.S. Marine Corps League members, experienced in getting a kitchen put together from their Lihu‘e Kokua Kitchen experience, are working with the Hanapepe Salvation Army leaders to launch the Westside kitchen.

“We will also need volunteers,” Groenleer said. Similar to the Lihu‘e program that currently serves two meals weekly, the Hanapepe kitchen will need to have members of organizations and groups come forward to “adopt” a week or two, or even the month, he said.

This involves a small monthly contribution to help acquire food, as well as four or five volunteers each week to help prepare and serve the hot meals.

“The last week of the month is reserved for the community,” Groenleer said. “We want them to feel that it’s their kitchen, so on the last week, anyone can come in to help.”

This announcement pleased Francisco, who did not want to commit to a long-term program, but would be available for a day.

“We never turn anything away,” Joy Groenleer said when Francisco asked about the possibility of bringing down prepared food that is left over from a function.

“There are many ways that we can use food,” Joy Groenleer said. “There are the youth programs that always can use snacks. We also have the women’s programs. We can find ways to use food.”

Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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