My friend Kaui Doyle died in the late summer after an 11-year tangle with ovarian cancer, her life much extended with the help of doctors in a German clinic. She was the beautiful Hawaiian lady who ran the Maui Food Bank in its very early days.
Always stylish, with her long black hair, great figure, and assortment of Sig Zane dresses, she worked 12-hour days dreaming up ways to keep the chronically underfunded agency on its feet. We were friends, and she hardly ever spoke of anything else.
I met Kaui one day when I was helping serve lunch to the homeless at the program Peggy Nascimento ran at Hale Nanea. Kaui invited me to be on the small board of the Food Bank, my only qualifications being that I cared.
I'd just returned from a long stay in India and Nepal where the preciousness of food was imprinted on me. I saw a man on a street corner in Mumbai whose legless torso was attached to a block. He propelled himself through the streets on his hands and made a living on the sidewalk boiling eggs for sale over a small gas stove.
I bought a cup of chai once for a man carrying a huge basket of sticks on a mountain trail and the look of delight on his face I will never forget. We stayed with a family in Nepal who offered two meals a day of rice and greens, and proudly gave us each an egg in the morning from a neighbor's hen.
Many of Kaui's dreams have come true.
The Maui Food Bank now has a diverse, experienced board including a banker, a hotel executive, a state legislator and representatives from EMI and HC&S. We longed for a refrigerated truck. They have two, a box style and a Freightliner semi. (Also two cargo vans and a flatbed truck.)
We struggled to pay the rent. Cyrus Monroe and his partner bought a building for the Food Bank and gave them three years to buy it back at cost, which they did in a year and a half. Thanks to a federal grant, it's the first solar-powered Food Bank in the country.
We dreamed of a "Homeless Brunch," with leftover food from the Wailea hotels. They have a prepared food recovery program called "Second Helping" that takes unserved hotel food to the homeless programs. (They also get bentos and three tons of leftover food a week from the concessions at the airport.)
There's now a health initiative, designed to provide fresh, more highly nutritious food. Last year out of the 2 million pounds distributed, half a million of it was fresh produce. I remember the days of Spam, Vienna sausage and packaged pastries. Make those donations now for tuna and chunk chicken, please. Meals in a can and 2-pound bags of rice are OK, too. (Gifts of money, so food can be purchased wholesale, go further.)
Dear to my heart is the Food Bank's goal that no child in the county go hungry. Through the Kids Caf, healthy snacks are delivered to youth centers. For some of the kids, it's the last meal of the day. The Aloha Backpack program supports kids in two elementary schools who depend on the free lunch and have nothing to eat on the weekends. They go home Fridays as family providers with a backpack full of food.
Reaching the hungry is a passion of Richard Yust, the Food Bank's executive director, who grew up in New York City, son of a single mom. "I know what it's like to have nothing in the cupboards," he told me. "I couldn't wait to get back to school because I'd have something to eat."
Through 100 member agencies, 10,000 people a month are fed on Maui, Molokai and Lanai, including seniors and people like the guy who came in sheepishly saying, "I got laid off, I can't pay my mortgage, and I can't buy food."
Said Yust, "There's always somebody in need."
This Thanksgiving, I am reminded of a recent comment by Xi Jinping, the presumptive new leader of China, who spoke of foreigners "with full bellies who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country."
"Full bellies." That spoke to me.
I will be having a beautiful meal in Honolulu, but I'll be thinking of the people who, through the kindness of strangers, are grateful for much, much less.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.