FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Utu Langi from the First United Methodist Church yesterday showed the Plymouth Voyager van that was stolen and stripped.
Church’s van recovered in stripped condition
The H-5 homeless project has its vehicle back, minus tires and seat
A church van used daily to deliver hot meals to the homeless is back in the hands of the owner but it will be a while before it gets rolling again.
Thieves stripped the tires and a back seat, and battered a door of the van used by volunteers with the H-5 project -- Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope -- at First United Methodist Church. The 1997 Plymouth Voyager was found in Kalihi Monday by police and was towed to Fantastik Auto Repair yesterday.
The project director, Utu Langi, said H-5 volunteers were disheartened by the Oct. 17 theft but it didn't halt the special meals-on-wheels program that feeds about 2,300 people a month at locations from Waikiki to Waianae. He has used his pickup truck to deliver meals prepared in the church's kitchen by volunteers.
The International Baptist Center on University Avenue offered its van to the Methodist program after the theft was reported in the Star-Bulletin. "We've had our van stolen more than once," said center director Joy Turner.
Langi was dismayed at the damage but said he isn't angry at the thieves.
"I don't imagine they knew they were stealing from people helping the homeless," he said. He was convinced the motive was profit after he learned that just the tire rims to replace the stolen ones would cost $500 each.
The American Red Cross gave Langi its True Blue Hero award in July for founding the meals project which, he said, "got rolling big time last year," inspiring a church member's husband to donate the van. Safeway Stores contributes food and individual donors give money to help buy food from Hawaii Foodbank. The foodbank and the United Methodist denomination have helped with grants, Langi said.
Last night, Langi delivered hot food to people who shelter under a bridge in Wahiawa.
Volunteers will distribute meals at a Kuhio Beach pavilion today; Ala Wai Community Center tomorrow; Magic Island Friday, and in Chinatown, Keehi Lagoon Park, Ala Moana Park and Mother Waldron Park Sunday.
"Saturdays, I take the family along," said Langi. He and wife Samiani and their three children take food to the Leeward Coast. "We start at Kaena Point and come back, 13 to 15 stops, wherever people are.
"This is my way of saying mahalo to the Lord for what he has done to me," said Langi, who describes a life that included a jail term in Tonga at age 13 and felony drug convictions here. He is now taking classes at Hawaii Pacific University on a track to a seminary and ordination as a minister.
The thieves also took Langi's university textbooks and school materials from the van. He found that they left his Bible behind, tucked into the glove compartment.