Our Islands, Our Future

Terry WatanabeEvery day of the year, volunteers dish out food at Hale Kau Kau, the island’s only daily soup kitchen. The volunteer force is an integral part of the nonprofit’s mission to feed the hungry and the homeless, according to its Executive Director, Monsignor Terry Watanabe. He also serves as the pastor of St. Theresa Church where the kitchen operates 365 days of the year. “I think there’s a real sense of caring in South Maui, people really want to reach out and do something tangible.” Watanabe said. The soup kitchen off Lipoa Street marks its 20th anniversary this year. Watanabe noted that dozens of people — residents and visitors to the island — have contributed their time and talent to be sure that the kitchen never closes, not even for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

One of these volunteers is Gail Mitchell, who began donating time to the program 18 years ago while making family trips to Maui. When she retired here 8 years ago, she became even more involved in working in the kitchen and making deliveries to the homebound — the elderly, the sick and disabled — people who might not otherwise get a hot dinner. “My faith in the mission of the church is all the motivation I need,” says Mitchell. “Feeding the hungry fulfills such a basic human need. The bonus, for me, is working alongside other volunteers who really have a heart, and working with great kids doing community service, whether for school requirements, legal obligation, or to earn food stamps or housing assistance.”

Coordinators estimate they’ve served more than a million meals since Hale Kau Kau’s opening. In its outreach work, Hale Kau Kau collaborates with churches in South Maui to regularly collect and distribute nonperishable canned food and other items. The Hale Kau Kau program has only one paid full-time staff member, a lead cook and two part-time paid employees. “The rest is done by volunteers. People are generous,” Watanabe said. “Our hearts go out to the people we serve and to those who make Hale Kau Kau successful.” Food donations, monetary contributions and volunteer manpower are accepted at Hale Kau Kau year round. For more information, call 875-8754.