craft beer

Drinking Beer for the Homeless in Kailua

You’ll feel good about yourself at Kailua’s newest craft beer tasting room — until you meet the owners.

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Tim and Holly Veling, Owners of Grace in Growlers in Kailua

Holly Veling feeds a worn twenty-dollar bill into the change machine, and I can hear the clinking as the quarters start to come out. It sounds like a casino, and in that moment, it makes a lot of sense to me, because for those that have come here seeking help, it is indeed the sound of a jackpot.

Holly and her husband Tim, along with a few other volunteers, are hanging out at a Kāne‘ohe laundromat for a few hours on a Saturday, paying for anyone who walks through the door. The outreach is an arm of the Veling’s Windwardside nonprofit, the ONEninetynine Initiative.

But to say it like that is a little bit misleading, because it insinuates that there’s something behind the curtain, that it’s not just Holly and Tim, choosing to spend their time at a laundromat, trying to help people who might not be able to afford to wash their clothes.

Most who show up are homeless. I can see clearly that Holly knows them all as she greets many of them with a hug. I take a bag of quarters and begin to load them into one of the washing machines. Having not been to a laundromat here, I was surprised at how expensive it was: Three bucks for a single load, then another three for the dryer. For someone struggling, I can understand why the stream or a public sink might start to seem like a more practical option.

Though their philanthropic efforts began well before, the Velings made them official three years ago when they registered as the ONEninetynine Initiative. At first, they raised funds by driving around the island and picking up large quantities of recycling from bars and restaurants, which they would then cash in. It was a good way to do double duty, to raise money and to recycle at the same time.

But the Velings always had their sights set on something bigger, something that could cement itself as part of the Kailua community and become a solid source of continuous funding for their nonprofit programs, like “Laundry Love” here today.

Something like a craft beer tasting room.

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Here, Grace Comes in a Growler

Tim and Holly’s idea was to pair the nonprofit efforts of their ONEninetynine Initiative with a for-profit business that would in turn fund the nonprofit (essentially rendering the for-profit a nonprofit itself, at least in theory if not by law).

“We didn’t want to be that nonprofit that’s asking for money all the time,” Tim said. “We wanted to be self-sustaining.”

While sitting at a packed bar one afternoon, the couple realized that the craft beer craze could be a bridge between their organization and the community. They envisioned a tasting room where local beers could be tried, where you were free to bring food and sit around and play games.

That was 2013. Last fall in October, Grace in Growlers opened on Hekili Street. The Velings’ decision and timing to open a tasting room was impeccable from a craft beer perspective, as O‘ahu is currently in the midst of a renaissance. In 2013, there were no functioning craft breweries on the island. Today, the number is approaching ten, and interest is booming.

The Grace in Growlers tasting room has 13 craft beers on tap that are constantly rotated as well as wine and local Sky Kombucha (Waimānalo) for a non-alcoholic option. It is decked out with recycled materials and carries what Tim describes as an “accidental school feel,” with wooden doors repurposed as tables, used lockers for coat and game storage, and old classroom desks and milk crates as seats.

The complete blueprint for Grace in Growlers, in addition to selling pints, is to also sell growlers of beer to-go, hence the (great) name. But selling beer for takeaway requires a separate liquor license, and Tim said it will be a few months until they receive the permit.

I’m sure it’s frustrating for the Velings, but to me, it’s a blessing in disguise. With the option for carryout absent, there’s no trace of transience. Instead, the place feels like a neighborhood pub, with people enjoying pints of beer, bringing their own food, sitting down with friends around a board game. There’s a sense of community. Tim said that several patrons have already volunteered their time to the ONEninetynine Initiative after chatting with him and hearing the story behind the tasting room.

“Sometimes people [we meet here at the tasting room] will come on a Saturday to help with our laundry service [Laundry Love], and then they’re back in here drinking beer again the next night,” Tim said. “Which is the most amazing thing. It’s exactly what we’re trying to do here.”

Text Message to the Homeless

For the sake of transparency and good faith in its efforts, there is a 36-ounce limit per visit per customer at Grace in Growlers. It is also one of the 100+ establishments statewide to operate without foam and plastic as part of the Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program.

“We don’t want to be that business that gets everyone drunk in the name of supporting a good cause,” Tim said.

During the days leading up to each Laundry Love event, Tim and Holly send out a text message to the homeless community with the location and time of the service, and their generosity has developed a regular following. Holly hugs another woman as she walks in, then brings out a chart and makes a note to order new shoes for her. As I watch them work, I begin to question my own path. Tim and Holly are the kind of people who can do that to you, make you stop in your tracks and wonder, am I doing enough good with my own life?

For me, the answer is probably not. But thanks to them, I at least now have a place to go for a beer, a place to go when I’m looking to feel better about myself.

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