For many RAM members, the holidays wouldn’t be complete without a generous helping of kindness. That’s why you’ll find some of them preparing and serving meals on Wednesday evenings during the holiday season—and throughout the year—at the Ka Hale A Ke Ola (KHAKO) Homeless Resource Centers in Wailuku and Lahaina.

Debra Merle of Island Sotheby’s International Realty spearheaded the first-Wednesday-of-the-month dinners at KHAKO in 1989. Since then, she’s recruited dozens of RAM members to help out, including many of her colleagues from Island Sotheby’s International Realty’s Wailea, Makawao and Lahaina offices. Among them are Rob Shelton, Teresa Nelle and Monica Starleaf; all three have become familiar faces in the kitchen at KHAKO.

“I signed up to organize the dinners almost 10 years ago when I heard Deb Merle asking for help at a Realtor® event,” Starleaf explained. “I was interested in various community service projects and I thought I’d give it a try…I’ve been regularly involved since.”

Like Starleaf, Shelton says he signed up as soon as the opportunity presented itself. “It was just the right thing to do,” he said. “It is always wonderful to be able to give back to those who are less fortunate.”

Starleaf shares the same sentiment—so much, in fact, that she brought her kids to KHAKO so they could lend a hand, too. “I took my children with me before they grew up and moved off island,” she said. “I believe it’s really important for us to encourage kids to help us with service to the guests at the shelter, so they realize how good their lives are with a place to live and food on the table—and to inspire some caring and empathy towards others.”

Nelle, who organized two dinners in 2017 and is planning to coordinate more in 2018, says the experience is intensely gratifying. “It’s very fulfilling to prepare and serve in this capacity,” she said. “Everyone feels better with their tummy filled. Our clients are very polite, friendly and thankful.”

Thirty-one years ago, KHAKO opened the doors to its first facility in a renovated Catholic church on the edge of a cane field in Puunene. In its first five years, the organization sheltered, fed and clothed more than 3,600 residents in need. In 1992, the organization broke ground on a new facility in Wailuku, and one year later, KHAKO Central began providing emergency food and housing to individuals and families in need. Then, in 2005, the organization welcomed the addition of KHAKO West Side in Lahaina. Today, KHAKO is a comprehensive resource center that provides emergency shelter, transitional housing, counseling services and adult education and training, as well as a primary care medical clinic and childcare facilities.

Shelton encourages other RAM members to consider signing up for a volunteer shift at KHAKO. “The staff is always great to work with—and seeing the satisfaction and hearing the thank-yous from the residents for a meal that is well prepared and respectfully served is all you need,” he said.

Starleaf couldn’t agree more. “I always feel great after doing it; the people at the shelter are so appreciative,” she said. “It makes my heart feel happy and full of love.”

KHAKO provides thousands of meals to men, women and children every year and volunteers are always needed to prep, cook and serve food at its Central and West Side facilities. To learn more about food donation or volunteer opportunities, visit For more information about Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers, visit or call (808) 242-7600.

Written by Sarah Ruppenthal

Published in The Maui News – December 23, 2017

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