Community mourns passing of GRIP head cook Pesa Laulea

Community mourns passing of GRIP head chef Pesa Laulea
GRIP shelter manager Siu Laulea, wife of the late Pesa Laulea, who was GRIP's head chef, remembers her husband at a memorial at GRIP headquarters on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. (Photos by Mike Kinney)

By Mike Kinney

Pesa Laulea loved the soul classics. While on duty as head cook of the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP), which provides shelter and resources to the homeless and others in need, he’d play soul music so often that the GRIP kitchen became known as the “Soul Kitchen.”

And so it was not surprising to hear Patrice Rushen’s hit song, Forget Me Nots, playing at GRIP headquarters at 165 22nd St. in Richmond on Friday. Sadly for many at the center and throughout the community, the song hits home. Laulea recently passed away, and so community members and family gathered at a memorial to him Friday. The event was a collective vow to never forget a man who meant so much to GRIP and the community.

Laulea was “our cook and our friend,” said GRIP Executive Director Kathleen Sullivan. The Laulea family has been part of GRIP for many years — his wife, Siu Laulea, is the shelter manager, and their 15 kids have “supported GRIP beyond any one family in time and commitment over the years,” Sullivan added.

Pesa Laulea and wife Siu Laulea

Pesa Laulea was described as “bigger than life in his support for the GRIP organization.”

“He not only supported our food service to the poor here at GRIP, he donated countless hours to assisting us with any other landscaping, construction, handyman or mentoring request we made for help,” Sullivan said.

GRIP staffer Louis Burrell stated, “He was not just a man, he was The Man.” Another of his talents was putting smiles on faces, one guest speaker stated.

“Pesa was a loving and caring people person, who was giving all of his self to GRIP,” said community advocate Antwon Cloird.

Laulea was also the owner of Laulea Love, a newly developed catering business designed to be a business run by his family.

At Friday’s memorial, his wife Siu Laulea said it was difficult to come to her workplace, “the place he loved.” Rev. Larry Austin, who sang a hip-hop gospel song called “He Has Been A Good, Good Father,” said Pesa’s presence “was everywhere here at GRIP.”

And it will continue to be. Sullivan has announced the creation of the Pesa Laulea  Community Service Fund to remember GRIP’s beloved cook. She made the Fund’s first pledge of $500.

“We will meet with family members and other community members to design scholarship details but we are clear that this [Fund] will support someone that has a heart for service to their community,” Sullivan said.

According to GRIP staffer Contesa Tate, it’s important to give back to those who give, like the Laulea family.

“Let us love them in the way they have loved us,” she said.