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It Takes An Army

Lt. Elizabeth Gross and Lt. James Combs of The Salvation Army with the organization's signature red kettles COCO ZICKOS PHOTO

Lt. Elizabeth Gross and Lt. James Combs of The Salvation Army with the organization’s signature red kettles
COCO ZICKOS PHOTO

Not everyone has a place to celebrate Thanksgiving . That’s why The Salvation Army hosts community Thanksgiving luncheons in Hanapepe and Lihue each year, so everyone has an opportunity to share a meal with others, feasting on turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, pumpkin pie and all the traditional holiday fixings.

“People are just so grateful, and you can see the joy and peace that comes to them,” says Lt. Elizabeth Gross, The Salvation Army Lihue Corps officer and Kauai County coordinator. “It’s really a touching moment.”

This will be her second year joining The Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving festivities Wednesday (Nov. 23) at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall beginning at 10 a.m., and she can’t wait. Neither can her colleague, Lt. James Combs, The Salvation Army Hanapepe Corps and Koloa Outpost officer, who will host an event on the same day and time, on a smaller scale, at the nonprofit’s Hanapepe site.

Guests at the community Thanksgiving luncheon patiently await their feasts

Guests at the community Thanksgiving luncheon patiently await their feasts

“It’s amazing to see everyone come together,” says Combs, who wants guests to feel like part of a family. “Even if somebody’s coming in because they don’t have food or anywhere to go, it doesn’t have to feel that way. We don’t need to know about that; they just come to be a part of the group.”

Admittedly, he’s not only looking forward to the camaraderie, but also to the food, which Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa staff help prepare each year for the west-side celebration. “Here on the island, it’s not every day you get to eat mashed potatoes and gravy,” he says.

Last year, some 380 meals were served in Hanapepe, and approximately 750 in Lihue. Similar numbers are expected this year, which is exactly why volunteers and groups that participate are vital. Besides receiving food donations from businesses including Mark’s Place, which prepares a signature turkey for Lihue, and eateries, including Hukilau Lanai, Kauai Community College culinary students also contribute their skills creating dishes for Lihue, and plenty of high school students from groups like Key Club return every year to serve meals to the guests.

Lt. Elizabeth Gross at last year's Thanksgiving luncheon at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall in Lihue

Lt. Elizabeth Gross at last year’s Thanksgiving luncheon at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall in Lihue

“It’s really fun when you see it all come together,” says Gross.

Though the meals are available to anyone who wishes to attend, as no ticket or application is required, Gross says it’s especially heartwarming to see families in need, as well as kupuna who might not otherwise have that kind of opportunity, enjoying themselves. “We want people to bring their families — from kupuna all the way down to keiki,” she says.

Next year marks the 120th anniversary of The Salvation Army’s services on Kauai. What started in a small place in Koloa, which still houses support groups as well as other programs, has grown to include Lihue Corps on Hardy Street and Hanapepe Corps on Puolo Road. The nonprofit, which is much more than just a thrift store, also serves as a church and operates in a semi-military fashion — thus the lieutenant titles for Gross and Combs, who also are pastors. Each site has a host of services for those in need, such as a Kokua Soup Kitchen, while also providing safe environments and enriching programs for youths and kupuna. “We’re free to start programs based on what the community actually needs,” says Combs.

Keiki from schools around the island volunteer their time every year serving Thanksgiving meals to people in the community in Lihue

Keiki from schools around the island volunteer their time every year serving Thanksgiving meals to people in the community in Lihue

But the services wouldn’t be possible without donations from the community, especially during the holiday season. Those familiar red kettles at 15 locations scattered around the island are the most important part of keeping the programs going year-round. And the money stays on-island, with most of every dollar going directly into services.

The Angel Tree Gift Program, in which keiki and kupuna in need ask for gifts that members of the community generously donate, is another effort that kicks into full gear after Thanksgiving.

Gross and Combs, who both have been at their current posts a little more than a year, are astounded by the generosity of kamaaina during the holiday season. “They come out of their way to help people in need,” says Combs.

Guests pick up their plates COCO ZICKOS PHOTO

Guests pick up their plates COCO ZICKOS PHOTO

Combs also is blown away by the kindness that emanates from people who are just barely getting by in their day-to-day lives. “People here are much more grateful and appreciative than on the Mainland,” says Combs, who is originally from Arizona. “There are huge poverty rates on the island … yet they’re grateful for anything they can get.”

Gross, a California native, agrees, and also likes the island’s small-town feel. “People know each other; they smile at strangers and they care about each other,” she says. “Even people coming in for assistance, they’re always pushing for somebody else to get the assistance or they’re bringing someone along with them. Or, if they’ve received, they want to give back because they know there are other families who need it. They care about the actual person.”

To volunteer, donate or for more information, visit salvationarmyhawaii.org.

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