Last week, 140 families from across the island filed into the exclusive Pacific Club to pick up gourmet turkey dinners for Christmas. But these families weren’t members of the private club – they were beneficiaries of the Turkey-to-Go Program, a holiday outreach run by homeowner and condo association management company Hawaii First.
“These are good, hardworking people who are just struggling a little bit,” says Hawaii First president Richard Emery, who launched Turkey-to-Go. “This is a chance to make their Christmas special and give them a really quality dinner that they may not otherwise enjoy.”
Now in its fifth year, the program has been expanding annually, having started from just 20 meals. As Emery tells it, he created the program “almost by accident” after enjoying a Thanksgiving turkey at the Pacific Club. “It was delicious, and I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if I could give it to some people who may not have the opportunity to enjoy such a fine meal?’”
To identify families in need, Hawaii First partners with Word of Life, Hale Kipa, Keiki O Ka Aina, Princess Kaiulani Elementary School, Palolo Elementary, Kipapa Elementary, Family Programs of Hawaii and Department of Health’s Clubhouses. The meals are a full gourmet dinner package – including stuffing, potatoes, vegetables and pies. In addition, families also receive a Visa gift card.
“That is so they can buy other things that they might need during the holidays, whether it is daily necessities or presents,” Emery says. “They can use it where they feel they can best help their family.”
To fund the program, Hawaii First raised $30,000 via donations from employees, friends and business partners.
The Turkey-to-Go program is the company’s primary community service activity, but it also participates in a range of outreach efforts throughout the year. Other programs include a child safety education initiative and a sustainability project.
In his spare time, Emery serves on the board of directors of various nonprofits, including Winners’ Camp, Poi Dogs and Popoki and U.S. Vets.
Emery hopes to expand the program substantially, which he admits has its logistical difficulties. But it’s all worth it when he sees the impact it has on families. One thing that sticks with him is a thank-you note from a woman who received a turkey dinner the first year. She told Emery that it was the best meal she and her family had ever had, but then went on to apologize: She was sorry to report that they were not able to wait until Christmas to eat the turkey. They had no food in their refrigerator and had to eat it immediately.
“They are so thankful because they have so little,” Emery says. “We hear these stories every year about how this made the holiday bright for their family and children. Once you start hearing these things, it becomes indelible that you really are making a difference for someone.”