Kona adds flavor to community

Thompson Intermediate School PTO members help students select their Kona shaved ice during a recent PTO fundraiser. Kona Ice of Birmingham, which is operated by Alabaster residents Kevin and Karla Butler, holds several fundraisers a week for local schools. (File)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

When the weather starts warming up during the spring months, Shelby County’s streets start jingling with the sound of steel drums and island-themed music as Kona Ice trucks start making their rounds.

For the past four years, Alabaster residents Kevin and Karla Butler have been selling tasty shaved ice treats featuring flavors such as “tiger’s blood” and “blue raspberry” while bringing smiles to kids all over the area.

“When the kids see us, they just go nuts,” Kevin Butler said with a laugh. “It’s a unique business. It’s really fun.”

Today, the Butlers and their staff man multiple events per day with three Kona Ice trucks and a mobile trailer unit. Each unit features the “Flavorwave,” which allows customers to choose and mix the flavors they want on their shaved ice.

In addition to setting up at many local events, the Kona Ice trucks also make regular rounds through the area’s neighborhoods.

But the Butlers said the business is about more than just selling iced treats.

“We do birthday parties and events, but about 95 percent of what we do is schools,” Kevin Butler said shortly before he traveled to a fundraiser at Mt Laurel Elementary School. “Last year, we gave back about $75,000 to schools. It’s been about $124,000 the past two years.”

Through the Kona Ice fundraiser programs, the Butlers and their staff regularly travel to schools or events for non-profit organizations to sell their shaved ice treats. At the end of the event, the Butlers donate a portion of the proceeds to the school or non-profit organization, Butler said.

“It’s definitely well-needed money,” Kevin Butler said, noting Helena Intermediate School recently used donations from a fundraiser to purchase sports equipment and pay part-time staff. “Some schools even use us as their main fundraiser.”

Over the past few years, the Butlers have sold at everything from school field days to Alabaster’s annual Celebrate America fireworks show. Because his children attend Shelby County schools, Kevin Butler said it is “rewarding” to give back to the community.

“We give a lot back to the kids in Shelby County schools, and we understand the funding problems the schools are facing,” he said. “It’s just a fun business.”