LIHUE — Sixteen people decided to give back to the community in a different way on Christmas Day, and instead of just cutting a check to a local charity, they took another step and put food in empty bellies.
Calling themselves the “Dragonfly Brigade,” these 16 friends come from all walks of life and spend plenty of time together. Life is comfortable, they say, and the goal was to do something to share that sense of comfort in the holiday season.
“The suggestion sounded like a really great thing,” said Randy Leonard, of Lihue. “We keep ourselves comfortable with familiar things and I was thinking about the people that don’t have the familiar and the comfortable, the people whose lives aren’t so easy.”
Dubbed “Operation Holiday Cheer,” the friends footed the bill to fill 200 lunch bags with meals for homeless populations in Lihue and Kapaa. They made an event out of filling the bags and then broke up into teams to deliver them Christmas morning.
Spam and baby carrots, hard boiled eggs, dried fruits and nuts, tangerines and a miniature loaf of banana bread made up the meal, and working together, the group filled the bags assembly line style.
“With 16 people filling the bags it only took about 15 minutes once we got the assembly line set up,” said Pamela Varma of Wailua Homesteads. “The longest part was baking the banana bread, which I did all from scratch. That took about eight hours.”
The homemade bread, fruit and proteins were put into festive bags for the holidays. Thirty-five of the bags were sent to Kauai Economic Opportunity and 10 were sent to the YWCA women’s shelter.
“Beyond that, we didn’t know where to deliver them, so Christmas morning, we just drove around Lihue,” Varma said.
Two of the group went to Kapaa and delivered meals along the bike path. They dropped off 45 bags of food in 45 minutes, traveling between Baby Beach and the Kapaa Library.
The Lihue group delivered about 120 bags in two hours encountering mostly people living in makeshift shacks or in vehicles.
Varma said she was expecting to encounter alcohol and drug use, “but that wasn’t the case at all.”
“It was just people down on their luck,” she said.
“Smokey Joe” was a character they encountered that day, pushing a cart and claiming he was a singer that used to perform with the likes of Smokey Robinson.
“I don’t know if that was true or not, but a few of us are singers and when he started singing it was obvious this 80-year-old man still has it,” Varma said. “It was inspiring, because he had lots to say and something he said really hit home for each of us.”
A man in a sport coat also got a lunch from Operation Holiday Cheer 2018, a man that spoke only to Leonard and didn’t really tell much of his story.
“He was younger and rather together looking,” Leonard said. “It just showed to me that what we picture as homeless isn’t always the case, it could be anybody. It could be the person you’re walking next to on the street.”
The goal of the project was to reach people that don’t frequent shelters. It was to find those souls that needed a little encouragement and food but weren’t at the soup kitchens for the holiday season.
Those who were involved say it was such a profound experience that they’re planning another round of distribution sometime in the coming months. They’re also putting out the challenge to the rest of Kauai: launch your own operation, and it doesn’t have to be just around the holiday season.
“It was a homespun effort that made me more grateful for where I am and what I have with friends and a home and employment,” Leonard said. “We should do this more often and it shouldn’t be limited to us. Pick a day and do a little outreach.”
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org