Seven years ago, Penni Egger of Island Sotheby’s International Realty and her four kids, Lauren, Kristen, Eva and James (affectionately known as “Bear”), took a break from their holiday preparations, piled into the family car and headed to McDonald’s.

Inspired by a video they’d seen—one that showed strangers passing out food to people living on the street—the Eggers bought $20 worth of hamburgers and fries and drove around Kahului handing them out to Maui’s unsheltered homeless. The next night, they decided to do it again. And the night after that.

Egger knew there were outreach services that delivered hot meals to the unsheltered on Christmas Day, but fewer made the rounds on Christmas Eve. The family made a unanimous decision. “We decided that we were going to make dinner and take it to the new friends we had met earlier that week,” Egger said. So, on Christmas Eve, she and her kids cooked a spaghetti dinner for 20 people, loaded it into the back of her car, and spent several hours distributing the heaping plates of food.

That evening, a new family tradition—called the “Christmas Eve Dinner Party”—was born.

The Eggers are gearing up for their seventh annual dinner party tomorrow night and plan to serve 200 meals this time around, possibly more. “I recently found out there are more than 800 homeless people on our island, and after hearing that, I hope we can do more than 200,” Egger said. “And hopefully by next year we can do a lot more than that.”

Every year, the menu changes, the number of meals increase, and there are more helping hands in the kitchen and on the road—family friends pitch in, too. “It seems every year we get a different group of people,” Egger said. The dinner guests aren’t always easy to find, but she and her fellow hosts make every effort to locate as many people as possible. Initially, Egger says some are hesitant, even dubious. “When they realize we just want to hang out and share a meal with them, everything changes,” she said. “There are so many smiles.”

And they deliver more than home-cooked meals. They also distribute bags filled with toiletries—from toothbrushes to shampoo to bars of soap—along with soft fleece blankets, jackets, and socks. “Some very special elves from my office buy the fuzzy blankets,” Egger said. “We have been wrapping them in ribbons and handing them out with the hot dinners we make for our guests.”

And the best part of all? Egger recently learned that others are hosting their own dinner parties this holiday season. “It is a pretty amazing feeling to know that other people are doing their own dinner parties—and not just here on Maui, but on the Mainland, too,” she said. “I guarantee once they feel that special feeling of giving they will be happier than they could ever be… it really is indescribable how it feels.”

Egger says she and her family will continue to host their Christmas Eve Dinner Party as long as it is needed. “It’s my favorite night of the year,” she said. “Not only do I get to be out there hanging out with new friends and sharing dinner and presents, but I also get to watch my kids and their friends laugh and enjoy giving more than receiving. Everyone should try it.”

And someday, she’d like to do it a little differently. “I heard this great quote recently: ‘dream for the impossible… because nothing is impossible,’” she said. “It was explained to mean ‘dream big.’ So my ‘dream big’ is have a real sit-down dinner party one year, maybe in a parking lot somewhere with twinkle lights, tablecloths, music, and Santa Claus. It would be a dinner party for 800. The kids will all have toys and we will sit around the dinner table telling stories and making new friends.”

With Egger’s heart and determination, it’s more than likely her dream will come true.

The Maui News – December 23, 2019

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