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Christmas in Kalaupapa

Kalaupapa Lions Club from left to right: Mary MacLoves, vice president, Glauco Puig-Santana, member, Jasmine Cuello, member, Aunty Meli Watanuki, president, and Leimomi Hooper, member. Photo by Ka’ohulani McGuire.

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

The annual Kalaupapa Lion’s Club Christmas celebration is normally the settlement’s “event of the year,” with a big party at McVeigh Hall that includes a feast, decorations, lucky number prizes, gift exchanges, friends and live music. But this year, as with so many things, the festivities looked a little different. Instead of a party, the Lion’s Club hosted a drive thru candy cane lane for community members, with a candy cane decorating contest, Christmas light decorating contest, raffles and gifts bags for everyone.

“There have been no events at all since March when the settlement closed to visitors and the Christmas Lion’s Club party is the event of the year for the Kalaupapa community,” said Ka’ohulani McGuire of the National Park Service. “The Lion’s Club really wanted to do something for the community and in particular, for the patient residents, so everyone could experience some joy and fun during the holidays. The club has only about 10 members and not all of them were at Kalaupapa to help out. They all worked really hard to pull it off and they did it! The nurses drove the patients who couldn’t drive and so they could see the Christmas lights and pick up their gift baskets.”

McGuire said residents drove around McVeigh Hall to see all the Christmas lights, approach by vehicle to the front of the hall to a table with coffee, tea, hot chocolate and Christmas cookies, which were delivered through car windows so no one had to get out.

Aunty Meli Watanuki. Photo by Ka’ohulani McGuire.

“Then you drove up to the front steps, where Aunty Meli [Watanuki, patient and Lion’s Club president] was there with her bucket, asking for cash donations (you can’t leave without putting something in the bucket!) and a Lion’s member brought your gift bag to you,” said McGuire. “Everyone in the community (including those who aren’t able to be in the park right now) received a gift bag, with useful items (sanitizing wipes, face masks, can goods, snacks, Christmas cookies, toothbrush, [and other items, depending on what was donated]. They prepared 72 gift bags filled with goodies for everyone.”

Donations were sent for the celebration from donors across the state, according to the Kalaupapa Lion’s Club. McGuire said the alternative event was brainstormed by Lion’s Club Vice-President Mary MacLoves.

The Kalaupapa Lions Club was born in 1948, and in 1955, club members, including many patient residents, built the iconic Ocean View Pavilion in the settlement.

“We at Kalaupapa National Historical Park thank the Lions for all their hard work this year and for their many years of partnership,” KNHP wrote on their Facebook page. “The Lions Club International has been a part of Kalaupapa since the 1940s — providing a place for patients and kokua to work together in maintaining Ocean View Pavilion, hosting events and helping to care for Kalaupapa. We are so grateful that this beautiful tradition of service to the community continues.”

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