Officer leaves flooded home to help feed others

Amidst the symphony of lawn-mower droning punctuated by the purrs and whirs of grass trimmers, Lt. Larry Groenleer was busy with Gene Redden and “chef” Ricky Butay inside the big hall at The Salvation Army Hanapepe Corps.

Tables were stacked with miscellaneous appliances and dishes as Erika Siliado worked silently to inventory and price-tag the seemingly endless array of kitchen items.

“In the past, all of these types of contributed items were automatically sent to the kitchen,” Groenleer said. “But, now, we’re only keeping what chef Ricky wants.” That resulted in the outpouring of items that will be sold at the Hanapepe Corps’ Thrift Shop, which was doing a thriving business on the first day of spring and, coincidentally, the first day of sunshine and blue skies after days of torrential rains and heavy-overcast skies.

This first day of spring coincided with the first day that any serious work was afforded the certified kitchen that will become the heart of the Westside Kokua Kitchen scheduled to open to the public on April 17.

Redden, who has had experience in establishing the successful Kokua Kitchen at The Salvation Army Lihue Corps, was working with Butay in getting the Hanapepe Corps’ kitchen operating.

This first day of work comes on the heels of Groenleer’s stint in feeding disaster workers in collaboration with officials and volunteers with the Kauai Food Bank.

Red, muddy water was flowing through the garage of Groenleer’s home when the call first came from Capt. Mitham Clement of The Salvation Army Lihue Corps. That was last Thursday, when Civil Defense officials activated the Army staff and volunteers to help feed the hundreds of people involved in flood cleanup and recovery efforts throughout the island.

Clement said Groenleer put up only a little resistance in answering the call, leaving the mess at home to the charge of his wife, Joy Groenleer, Lt. Larry Groenleer answered the call.

For the next four days, Lt. Larry Groenleer took care of feeding disaster workers from Mana to Koloa, while Clement and volunteers at the Lihue Corps took care of workers on the central and eastern parts of the island.

“It was very heart-warming,” Clement said, describing a young mother who arrived at the Lihu‘e site to volunteer with her two young daughters.

“They were like experienced volunteers,” Clement said. “When the people came in for their food, the daughters kept thanking them for all their work, and filled the plates and cups without skipping a beat. It was truly heart-warming.” The Hanapepe Corps staff and volunteers finished four days of serving, with over 117 meals served through the generosity of chefs, owners and operators of local hotels, businesses, and restaurants. At the Lihue Corps, Clement said they had gone through over 30 meals a night since being activated.

“This is more than I expected,” Groenleer said. “But, it was all made possible through the generosity of all those businesses.

That’s a story all in itself.” Clement said the food they were serving also included cold drinks as well as hot drinks.

“This was not leftovers,” he said. “This was real food that the staff in the culinary departments of hotels and restaurants prepared especially for the disaster workers. This was real food.” Officers of both the Lihu‘e and Hanapepe Corps could not say enough about the benevolence of those chefs, owners and operators of businesses and restaurants who contributed to the program coordinated by officials at the Kauai Food Bank.

As the sun shone down on the Hanapepe Corps headquarters building near Hanapepe Recreation Center and Hanapepe Stadium, Groenleer explained that they were on stand-by status for serving meals.

This gave him the opportunity to roll up his sleeves and work with Redden and “chef” Ricky in preparing for the opening of the Westside Kokua Soup Kitchen.

Cleanup of his own home took place between serving meals and coordinating the deliveries of food that needed to go out.

“Chef Ricky grew up with The Salvation Army,” Groenleer pointed out. “Today, he still comes to service here, and he’s doing the cooking as a way of giving back to the community. He’s so grateful for everything The Salvation Army did for him while he was growing up.” A graduate of the Western Culinary Institute in Oregon, Butay credits those at Roy’s Poipu Bar and Grill in Poipu Shopping Village with giving him his start in the cooking field.

After working at Roy’s for several years, Butay is currently cooking at Kauai Pasta. Butay’s day off coincides with the schedule of the Westside Kokua Kitchen, and he is thankful he can be behind the controls of the commercial cook-top.

As of April 17, the opening date for the kitchen draws closer, Groenleer continues to do wonderful things, Clement said.

He is currently seeking volunteers from organizations to help with the opening-night serving.

As for being busy, Groenleer stopped only briefly to say, “Only when I’m awake.” Representatives of groups and individuals wishing to help with the Westside Kokua Kitchen can call Redden at 652-3670.

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

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