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Seniors to receive meals on Christmas Day from Big Island Giving Tree through a team of volunteers

<p>Sansei Restaurant staff and volunteers pack hot turkey meals to deliver to seniors last year on Christmas Day. (FILE PHOTO)</p>

Sansei Restaurant staff and volunteers pack hot turkey meals to deliver to seniors last year on Christmas Day. (FILE PHOTO)

<p>Volunteers drop off meals at the Waimea senior housing complex last year. (FILE PHOTO)</p>

Volunteers drop off meals at the Waimea senior housing complex last year. (FILE PHOTO)

<p>A volunteer’s car is packed with food deliveries last year at Christmas. (FILE PHOTO)</p>

A volunteer’s car is packed with food deliveries last year at Christmas. (FILE PHOTO)

<p>Volunteers pose with one of the seniors during a delivery last year. (FILE PHOTO)</p>

Volunteers pose with one of the seniors during a delivery last year. (FILE PHOTO)

On Christmas morning, Keone Glory, his wife, Millicent, and their children forgo the immediate impulse to rush into the living room and rip open presents under their Christmas tree.

Instead, the family first takes time to bring meals to seniors who live in their neighborhood senior housing complex in Kohala through the Big Island Giving Tree Christmas Day senior meals program.

Each year, with the help of Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar in the Waikoloa Queens’ MarketPlace, the Big Island Giving Tree has prepared hot turkey dinners – complete with pumpkin pie, homemade stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and vegetables – for about 350 seniors living in senior housing complexes throughout the island on Christmas Day. Along with the meal, the seniors receive a bag of groceries including: canned meat, rice, saimin, canned fruits, canned vegetables, soups, toothpaste and a toothbrush and other toiletries as well as a blanket.

And though their Christmas may start slightly later in the day, the Glorys believe they have a more joyful Christmas.

“Their faces light up,” Glory said of their encounter with the elders. “They don’t get visitors too often. It is nice to see the joy on their faces when they receive the plates and gifts on Christmas; that is awesome.”

Glory said that last year, the family was accompanied by Kohala area youth.

“My wife and I both coach sports, and we thought that it would be a good opportunity to show the kids on the basketball team a way to give back,” Glory said. “We thought it would be fun for them to see how it is and what it is about, so we took them along to take orders.”

Glory said students were grateful and moved by their experience.

“We hope it (the impact) carries on in their lives and helps them to stay positive and to give back as much as possible,” he said of the basketball players.

He said the seniors enjoy the visits and are truly touched by the generosity, kindness and love, especially on the holiday.

“Some of the actually break down and cry they are so thankful,” he said. “That is what keeps us going.”

For the fifth year in a row, Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar has volunteered to prepare the meals under the direction of Tom Alejado, general manager.

Alejado said that though this is his first year with the restaurant, their chef, Scott Lutey, agreed without hesitation to prepare the Christmas Day meals.

“When I talked to him (Lutey) about the program, he did not even flinch and said he is on board,” Alejado said.

The restaurant will prepare 36, 20-pound turkeys. Alejado said that over the years, they have kept notes and perfected their proficiency so it is much easier than the first year.

“We have great practice from Thanksgiving,” Alejado said. “You learn to do things better and faster.”

The night before, the restaurant staff begins chopping, preparing and cooking the stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and other vegetables. This year, Rhonda Bell, director of the Big Island Giving Tree, was able to get a farm to donate local vegetables.

“We got all excited about that,” Alejado said. “We are looking forward to showcasing Big Island products. Fresh is always better.”

He said they hope to receive about 300 pounds of vegetables. Alejado said that Sansei brings in two extra cooks just to help with production for the event. He said that not only is the chef busy, but the whole staff gets involved.

“They know that what they doing is for charity — for something good,” he said.

Chef Lutey will be in the kitchen until well after midnight, then there again around 4:30 a.m. to be ready for about 40 volunteers that will arrive at 8 a.m. to help assemble the food into clamshell containers. The food will then be delivered by volunteers at about 10 a.m.

“You need a force – you need a great amount of help,” Alejado said.

Volunteers deliver food and bags of groceries to seniors in Hawi, Waimea, Honokaa and Kona. The Sansei staff goes home for a quick catnap then returns for the Christmas Day dinner rush. He said despite the lack of sleep the staff loves to help.

“There is laughter and you just know, after it is all done, this is for the kupunas,” he said.

Leighton Bell helps with the Christmas Day senior feedings with Rhonda and his two sons. The children used to stay home with their grandmother, but now they help pack the senior meals on Christmas morning.

“Our boys understand we are doing this to help those who cannot do certain things to have a special meal,” Leighton Bell said. “We make adjustments to be able to bless others.”

Deighton Bell, 12, a sixth grader at Waimea Middle School, said he enjoys not only helping with senior meals, but also delivering presents to families through the Big Island Giving Tree Adopt-a-Family and Adopt-a-Child program.

“I was excited (for this year) because it was good (last year),” Deighton Bell said. “When you give people food, or if you give them diapers that they need very bad, some of them break down in tears right in front of you.”

He said he especially likes to pick out gifts and to help wrap presents.

“My mom is like Santa because she does all this stuff and me and my brother and dad are like the elves,” Deighton Bell said.

Rhonda Bell said she gets the turkeys donated by Costco and most of the food from Costco using donated gift cards and monetary donations. To donate food, gifts, or a Costco gift card, call Bell at 880-1984, or Nancy Carr Smith at 896-2239. The group is also looking for donations of gas cards to help volunteers who deliver for Big Island Giving Tree Adopt-a-Family or Child programs as well as the deliveries for the seniors.

For a complete list of necessities, visit the Waimea Community Association website at