For Tammy Smith, feeding people is a calling. Smith, the Dietary Manager at Lunalilo Home and second generation owner of Hale Kealoha restaurant in Kailua, is one of the ‘ōiwi food vendors that OHA is partnering with through its COVID-19 Kaiāulu Meals program. In the crisis presented by the pandemic, Smith says that “Food is the most important thing. It’s how we help our community get to the next day.”

“We are experiencing a time unlike anything we have experienced before,” notes Mehanaokalā Hind, OHA Community Engagement Director. “We know that this can lead to food insecurity. OHA’s kūpuna meals program was set up to feed the most vulnerable in our communities and to support those organizations, businesses and service providers who have stepped up to fulfill this need.”

Lunalilo Home Dietary Manager Tammy Smith, has been feeding hundreds of kūpuna every week since mid-March with support from OHA’s Kaiāulu Meals Program. Says Smith, who sees this work as a calling, “I get up every day knowing I will make a difference.” – Photo: Jason Lees

Smith is an example of someone who has seen the need and taken steps to fill it. Her regular job is to take care of the daily food requirements of the 32 residents at Lunalilo Home. But since the onset of the pandemic, she has been working seven days-a-week to help make sure that other kūpuna are also getting nutritious meals. With funding from OHA, Smith has been preparing a about 2,200 additional frozen and hot meals per week, meeting the nutritional needs of nearly 500 kūpuna in addition to the residents at Lunalilo Home, and partnering with Hawai‘i Meals on Wheels for delivery. Said Smith, “As long as OHA can finance these kūpuna meals, they will. I appreciate that OHA is stepping up.”

Not only does Smith prepare thousands of meals a week, she customizes the meals based on the individual dietary needs of the recipients, preparing special recipes in six categories, such as low sodium, low sugar and even pureed food. To the extent possible, Smith is also utilizing fresh, locally grown ingredients in her meals.

Smith also pitches in to kōkua her son, Kaneala Smith, who runs Hale Kealoha’s ‘Āina Hau‘oli program. Hale Kealoha is another ‘ōiwi food vendor partnering with OHA and preparing weekly meals for about 300 kūpuna.

The social distancing mandate has been hard on restaurants, and Hale Kealoha is no exception. A large part of their business is from catering, but with all events canceled during the lockdown, they are taking a big hit. “We have zero income coming in,” said Smith about their restaurant. “But instead of crying and saying ‘poor us’ we came up with a plan and moved on. This is about need. It’s our kuleana to feed people.”

In addition to OHA, Hale Kealoha is also partnering with Alu Like and Alexander and Baldwin. They also receive monetary and food donations from ordinary people. If you would like to help by sponsoring a kupuna in need for $50 a week, email ainahauoli@gmail.com.

“This is about taking care of relationships and the needs of our people,” Smith emphasizes, her voice breaking with emotion. “I get up every day knowing I will make a difference. It’s service more than anything else. It’s about your kuleana. COVID-19 is an awakening to our lāhui about aloha and how you care about your people. Through food I get to be part of this and to use my talent to help.”