Kokua Kitchen kicks off Salvation Army Week

HANAPEPE n Marty Amaro of Kaua‘i Coffee Company was preparing to enjoy his Thanksgiving weekend when he met Lt. Larry Groenleer of the Salvation Army, Hanapepe Corps.

“How can you say ‘no’ to Lt. Larry?” Amaro said to the gathering of about three dozen Salvation Army dignitaries and guests Monday.

Amaro supplies coffee for all of the kitchen’s meal services.

Amaro and other guests were on hand to celebrate the dedication of the Hanapepe Corps’ Kokua Kitchen, which also marked the beginning of Salvation Army Week. The kitchen served its first meal about a month ago, on April 17.

Since then, under the culinary direction of Ricky Butay, the Kokua Kitchen has averaged about 50 meals at each Monday evening sitting.

“You know the good thing about Ricky?” Groenleer said. “There was one night when there were about 70 people and the food was running low. But, Chef Ricky had it all under control, and before the food actually ran out, he had prepared a second entree so everyone could be fed.”

Also starting Monday, Capt. Mitham Clement of the Lihu‘e Corps said that people can enjoy a 50 percent discount on clothing items at both the Lihu‘e and Hanapepe locations of the Salvation Army Thrift Store.

Outside the Hanapepe Corps’ social hall and thrift shop, business was thriving as shoppers browsed aisles of offerings.

Amaro, in the meantime, rolled up his sleeves and began to brew a pot of coffee for arriving guests.

“When we brought over the coffee for their community luncheon, we immediately made the commitment to help bring food to those who might otherwise not have any,” Amaro said. “Hopefully, we can open a few more days (of meal service) for this kitchen.”

The key to being able to attain the Salvation Army’s goal of serving a meal a day somewhere on the island is volunteerism, Groenleer said.

“We have volunteers all the way to July,” said Gene Redden, volunteer coordinator for the Kokua Kitchen program. “But, we’re always looking for more. We never turn away volunteers.”

Redden, who, along with Judy Rachap, was instrumental in getting the Kokua Kitchen off the ground, said it took almost two years of discussions and planning before the first kitchen opened at the Lihu‘e Corps in November 2004.

From weekly Tuesday evening dinners, the Kokua Kitchen expanded to include lunch on Thursdays when the Lihu‘e Lutheran Church stepped forward to offer volunteers and funding for one year. The church recently renewed its agreement for the Thursday lunch program, Clement said.

“But, we were committed to Hanapepe,” Redden said. “We knew there were people out there who needed the kitchen, and this was verified by the 50 meals being served.”

Redden explained the biggest hurdle was obtaining the certification, granted on the condition that the kitchen is separated from the serving and dining area.

Contracts have already been worked out to create a wall to meet those conditions, Redden said.

Amaro said there have been a number of additional people who were instrumental in starting the Kokua Kitchen. American Culinary Federation members Guy Higa of the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort and Beach Club and Mark Oyama of Mark’s Place and Contemporary Flavors Catering provided equipment to help the kitchen meet its certification.

“I was known as the ‘Soup Man’ because every time I showed up, Guy Higa would load up my truck with stuff for the kitchens,” Amaro said. “Mark also asked if we could use a six-burner stove which will probably go to the Lihu‘e Kitchen.”

“This is a huge endeavor,” Groenleer said to the guests. “The Salvation Army appreciates the work you all do because without the help of the community, this would not be possible. With the help, we can provide help to the community.”

Jim Itamura, the Salvation Army Kaua‘i Advisory Board Chairman, said the success of the kitchen is demonstrated in the number of meals served at each sitting. Itamura extended the board’s appreciation for all the hard work it took to ensure the success of the program, as well as launch two kitchens within a two-year span.

Butay, who has been associated with the Salvation Army since he was a young boy, comes on his days off as a way to give back, Itamura said.

“William Booth would be the happiest man on Kaua‘i today,” Clement said. “In 1852, he founded the Salvation Army. In 1897, the Salvation Army arrived in Hawai‘i, and today, the Army continues to do good things for people who need, living up to his original intention of providing soup, soap and salvation.”

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

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