Staff and volunteers from Hakipu'u Academy, Blueline Solutions and the Hawai'i Heath and Harm Reduction center at their community food distribution project on April 9. - Photo: Courtesy

Organizations pull together as pandemic hits Hawaiʻi’s shores

By mid-April 2020, the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus had infected more than 2.5 million people worldwide and killed more than 170,000, including more than 40,000 deaths in the United States alone. In Hawaiʻi, more than 550 cases and counting were recorded across the islands, including 12 patients who sadly succumbed to the disease.

As Hawaiian organizations stood up to accept their kuleana and mālama the community in the battle against the pandemic, one thing has become clear: the coronavirus and its COVID-19 disease have been unable to dampen the aloha spirit.

Local entities, groups and individuals have mobilized like a true ʻohana: they’ve created and donated face masks and shields to community members and health professionals alike; produced and donated hard-to-find hand sanitizer; taken wellness and cultural classes online to sheltering-in-place audiences; created Facebook support groups to tackle ongoing challenges; and donated countless meals to the neediest in the community as unemployment runs rampant and the tourism industry has ground to a stop.

It’s been inspiring to witness.

Feeding Our Community

Members of KUPU’s Culinary Program work on getting more meals out to Windward O’ahu families. – Photo – Coutrtesy

“In a time of crisis, emotions like fear, blame, and worry can easily become the loudest voices within us and around us. Many of us may even feel helpless, seeing only inevitable chaos and confusion,” said KUPU Chief Strategy Officer Jonathan Marstaller. “We can tend toward self-preservation, avoiding collaboration, and powering down our community-focused engine. However, now is the exact moment to exponentially power up and steer in the opposite direction.”

KUPU is Hawai’i’s leading conservation and youth education non-profit, providing hands-on training and national service programs that educate and mentor youth to become stewards of culture and environment. Since March 23, members of the group’s Culinary Program have served up 8,000 meals to families at distribution sites in Waimānalo and Kahaluʻu. At each location, between 350-400 meals have been donated Monday through Friday with pick-up starting at 11:30 a.m.

“We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. We have a network of partners for our many programs, and it’s been an amazing thing to see many of them pull together in this time of need. Our primary goal is to feed as many people as possible – and to create or retain as many jobs as possible,” Marstaller added.

KUPU’s partners have put their hearts and souls into the project.

Aloha Harvest is donating food from hotels and businesses; KEY Project and Ke Kula Nui o Waimānalo have taken on the responsibility of the on-site meal distributions; Matson, coordinated by Vince Ching and delivered by Akana Trucking, donated the use of a 20-foot refrigerated container to increase Kupu’s cold storage space; D. Suehiro Electric donated labor to help outfit the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Hoʻokupu Center where the meals are being prepared; Amanda Corby Noguchi and Chef Mark Noguchi with the Pili Group have coordinated the rescuing of food from local businesses; large food donations have come in from Ham Produce and Seafood and Prince Hotel; and The Castle Foundation, Consuelo Foundation and Pacific Current provided funding to get the initiative off the ground.

Marstaller said they have funding for meal distributions through April and are seeking funds to continue the project for as long as necessary. He said as little as $5 can provide a meal. Contact him at if you’d like to donate.

In a “Mālama ʻOhana” grassroots collective, Hakipuʻu Academy in conjunction with The Hawaiʻi Health and Harm Reduction Center, the Hawaiʻi Food Bank, Uncle Glenn’s Hawaiian Food, Bluelines Solutions Hawaiʻi and Bayview Golf Park came together to help feed the community on April 9 and April 16.

Distribution of non-perishables, fresh fruits and vegetables went out to families, including more than 1,000 adults and 500 children at the April 9 event.

Hakipuʻu Governing Board Chair Kauʻi Pratt-Aquino said the project came together after surveys of families of students attending several schools in the Koʻolaupoko area showed that some families had as little as a one-day reserve supply of food. Pratt-Aquino has been instrumental in facilitating conversations, disseminating the latest information on vital resources and seeking opportunities for others to be actively involved in the needs of the community during this time of distress.

“It has been amazing, simply amazing, to see the beauty and passion of the members of this community who have responded to this call for help,” she said. “We are incredibly grateful for all the organizations and individuals who stepped up to help provide a critical need in our community at a time when families are struggling. People are out of work and their benefits have not reached them, which means people are out of money, so we cannot idly stand by and allow people to be out of food.”

Face Mask Production

Students from ʻIolani, Kamehameha Schools Kapālama, Mid-Pacific and Punahou donated surgical face shields to local medical professionals. – Photo: Courtesy

Many entities and individuals are creating and donating face masks to help with shortages.

One such group is the Hoapili Baker Foundation, a royal foundation based on the family bloodline and its ties to its Papa Aliʻi, Robert Hoapili Baker, cousin and aide-de-camp to King Kalākaua. The foundation’s mission is to provide educational opportunities to Native Hawaiians, address housing issues and support the ocean environment.

Spearheaded by family members Khanh and Amber Le, the foundation has tapped into a community need where essential workers in the Hawaiian community are looking for masks on a daily basis. The foundation has so far donated more than 5,000 masks – with more being created and donated daily.

Amber Le of the Hoapili Foundation (foreground) celebrates another donation of face masks to medical professionals. – Photo – Courtesy

They have provided free masks to Wahaiwā General’s Long-Term Care facility, the Queen’s Medical Center, the Kapālama U.S. Post Office and the Honolulu Police Department, along with other medical clinics.

“Because we live on an island and are in close-knit proximity with the community, the response to the COVID-19 crisis is an example of how Hawaiians instinctively respond best – to mālama and help each other,” said foundation Chairwoman and CEO Georgette Baker Luppino. “It’s encouraging to see Hawaiians helping Hawaiians. From a legacy of kuleana, our ʻohana is asking the community in Hawaiʻi to join us in acts of compassion toward others.”

Business, Culture, Entertainment and Engagement

Located in the historic Varsity building in Mōʻiliʻili, Ka Waiwai is a contemporary Hawaiian space where community, culture and commerce intersect. The group promotes well-being through a series of workshops, classes and panel discussions.

With potential audiences and members stuck at home social distancing, Ka Waiwai has pivoted its services to online audiences.

“Prior to COVID-19, ʻAwa & ʻAi was an ʻawa bar experience that featured Molokaʻi grown ʻawa, artisanal paired pūpū and music from some of our most popular and up and coming local artists. We offered a unique pau hana alternative that was health conscious and family friendly,” said Mahina Paishon-Duarte, Waiwai Collective’s managing partner and co-founder. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the organization reformatted ʻAwa & ʻAi 2.0 as a virtual content platform to offer short seven to 10-minute wellness videos that are available to the public and available as an on-demand option for current and new “co-work” members.

Staff and volunteers from Hakipu’u Academy, Blueline Solutions and the Hawai’i Heath and Harm Reduction center at their community food distribution project on April 9. – Photo: Courtesy

In addition, starting in April, Ka Waiwai became a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Box pick up site every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. “This service expands public access to acquire fresh veggies, supports local non-profits and businesses, and continues to advance our company’s vision. We’re proud to partner with MAʻO Farms, Kahumana Farms and Makana Provisions to bring this essential service to the public,” Paishon-Duarte said.

Ka Waiwai currently has more than 300 co-work members and they are now offering a Waiwai Virtual Co-Work membership for an introductory fee of $10. The Virtual Co-Work membership includes unique services and experiences like membership spotlights, curated business and wellness services, and private access on-demand Resilient + Abundant videos. To learn more about their offerings visit their website at

Like many organizations across the globe, the pandemic and resulting economic slowdown is hurting Ka Waiwai. “We are feeling deep financial impact,” Paishon-Duarte said.“COVID-19 has impacted our revenue generation capacity as we are closed to space rentals and this was an important part of our business model. Like other small businesses and non-profit organizations, we are trying our best to maintain a positive outlook despite the unprecedented uncertainty. It is in times like these that we see that lived values really do matter.”

Despite the struggle, Paishon-Duarte had nothing but praise for the Hawaiian community.

“We are so grateful to all of our front-line workers and community champions. I want to express how proud I am of our kānaka who have stepped up to kōkua kūpuna, keiki, neighbors and the greater community without expectation of anything in return,” she said. “Similar to how we come together to make lūʻau, this moment is where we can share our talents, gifts and resources to benefit all in Hawaiʻi; because if we all give what we can, we will have plenty enough.”

Chief Strategy Officer Marstaller of KUPU agreed. “Now is the time to focus on unity, service to one another, hope, and compassion,” he said. “Now is the time to live out aloha. Now, more than ever before.”