LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i Police Explorers did more than volunteer Tuesday evening; they got a lesson in life.
Thirteen of the Explorers, under the direction of Kaua‘i Police Department officer Darla Abbatiello-Higa and Dawn Wooten of Kaua‘i Community College, turned out to volunteer for dinner service at the Salvation Army, Lihu‘e Corps Kokua Soup Kitchen.
“We are here for service,” Salvation Army Envoy Larry Groenleer said. “Some of the people you will meet are having a hard time deciding between a meal or paying the utility bills. We tell them to pay the bills and come eat here. Others have no place to go.”
Groenleer instructed the Explorers on discretion and the right to privacy of the clients who visit the three-times-a-week program.
“What happens here, stays here,” he said, summing up who the Explorers would meet during the Tuesday dinner service.
Groenleer said he was surprised when 13 Explorers showed up, explaining that normally when people volunteer, about five usually show up.
The large number of Explorers provided diners with an extra touch as Groenleer announced Tuesday night’s dinner would be a sit-down service where Explorers would bring the meals to diners and clear the table following their meal, the announcement drawing smiles across faces, some taut as they coped with the heavy deluge just before arriving.
“I’m just so proud of these kids,” Abbatiello-Higa said. “They have so much discipline, I can just stand back and they jump right in to do the work.”
Prior to the arrival of diners, she briefed the Explorers, noting that she will probably know a lot of the people and they will know her.
“You’re here to serve,” she said. “Talk to them. Be friendly.”
The crew worked seamlessly as one, part of the group forming the serving line, others mingling with the hall full of people, arms laden with plates, while others manned the beverage stations and did dishes.
During the course of the evening, Groenleer mentioned the No. 1 sought-after commodity is rice, to which Abbatiello-Higa immediately offered the Explorers’ service in helping.
“We collect empty drink cans and with some of that funds, can probably get some rice,” she said after conferring with Wooten on the possibility.
Groenleer said with the rising costs of items like rice and beef, the Kokua Soup Kitchen makes do with what they have, adding the Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank’s generosity helps the program in countless ways.
“These are good kids,” Abbatiello-Higa said, noting there was just one person when the program started about 18 months ago. “Today, we have about 15 Explorers with one more joining the program next week.”
She said as more and more people find out how good these kids are, their schedule is getting full, but they always have time to volunteer at events such as the Kokua Soup Kitchen which helps a lot of people.
“We’ll be back in August because Envoy Larry said during the summer, there is an increase in the number of kids who need help getting food,” she said. “It’s all about the kids. Mine have already graduated and have their own families and I never thought I would have this many more.”
Abbatiello-Higa said the Explorers will be at Kukui Grove Center, May 21, to help with the free Keiki ID program which will be part of the Police Week celebration.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.