Bart Thomas is a hometown hero, said Kimmy Achuara in a nomination email.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how much this man has done for a lot of people, myself included,” Achuara said in her nomination. “During this time of COVID-19, he has been helping out a lot of families through The Salvation Army — helping to prepare food, serving, delivering, and picking up and delivering mattresses from the Koloa Landing Resort to families in need. He does these things with no intent of ever wanting anything in return. He is truly a generous person and does things for people out of pure love.”
Thomas was surprised and honored at the thought of being a hometown hero.
“For the past 20 years, I’m always raising my hand to volunteer,” he said. “I’ve been involved with a lot of nonprofit organizations, raising money for groups like the Hawai‘i Children’s Theatre, the Kaua‘i Veterans Center, including the Vacations for Warriors program, several children’s programs, and the list goes on. In June 2019, I was asked to become a member of the Kaua‘i Salvation Army Board and never gave it a second thought.”
Along came the novel coronavirus.
“The pandemic took everyone by surprise,” Thomas said. “The Salvation Army was hit pretty hard, and The Salvation Army board directors were asked for some help. I was amazed with Capt. Shawn Keoho. She was facing some overwhelming challenges, but stepped up to the call of COVID-19.”
The Salvation Army Thrift Store was the biggest contributor of funds to the organization, but since the closures resulting from the COVID-19 efforts at flattening the curve, the well was dry. Keoho needed help getting funds, and volunteers.
“I am the junior vice commander for the Kaua‘i Veterans Council, so reached out to my fellow veterans to ask for help,” Thomas said. “Their response was overwhelming. At the same time, the Koloa Landing Resort was selling California king mattresses, and the resort’s president and general manager decided to donate them to the veterans and The Salvation Army.”
Thomas created a fundraiser that would allow him to deliver mattresses around the island — residents would get a mattress free, and pay only a delivery fee.
“My phone was crazy busy, thanks to Ron Wiley and KONG radio,” Thomas said. “I delivered more than 30 mattresses to veterans, some of whom had their mattresses for more than 20 years. There are some veterans sleeping like babies now. Additionally, I gave out more than 100 mattresses benefiting The Salvation Army.”
Delivering mattresses brought another facet of COVID-19 to light — feeding the homeless camps.
“I did not realize we had that many homeless out there,” Thomas said. “The old saying, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ was the consensus from the residents when I delivered mattresses to them. People would say, ‘I didn’t think there were that many homeless people.’ I did not realize the homeless situation until I started going to all the designated camps the government set aside for the homeless.”
“We fed hot meals, gave hygiene products and groceries to the camps,” he said. “I was doing this five or six days a week for two straight months until The Salvation Army Corps and the board members created a good schedule to cover the island.”
Thomas continues to dedicate his Tuesdays and Thursdays to preparing meals and delivering to the Eastside of the island.
“These homeless camps have a lot of great people,” he said. “I was visiting ‘Anini Beach a few weeks ago, and there was a large family with four or five children. They were close to the van, but would wait until everyone else got meals before getting their own lunch. When I asked them why, they said they wanted to make sure everyone else was fed.”
“It turned out this lady moved out of her house because she couldn’t afford the back rent, and instead is helping her niece with her rent. The following week, I bought some toys for the children. I felt like Santa Claus, watching the children smiling from ear to ear.”
“On another trip to ‘Anini Beach to deliver a tent for a family, several individuals approached the van asking if I had food available,” Thomas said. “I felt really sad. I had to tell them I ran out of food. But a family that I’ve been giving help to walked up to me and said, ‘Bart, don’t worry — I’ve got extra groceries that you gave us last week. I’ll make something for them.’”
“While driving back home, this really got to me,” he said. “I realized that even during the toughest times, Kaua‘i people have the biggest hearts. Just last week, several families got together and made potluck, sharing the chicken and beef I gave them.”
Rose Thomas, Bart’s mother and a retired registered nurse, joined him for the trip to Lydgate Park and ‘Anini Beach Tuesday.
“In times like this, we just have to help,” she said, adjusting her face mask.