Meals & Mahalo: OHA and Native Hawaiian-Owned Businesses Give Back to Frontline Hospital Workers

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Over the past few months, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) has delivered nearly 2,000 meals to frontline hospital workers across the pae ʻāina from Hilo Medical Center to the Kauaʻi Veterans Memorial Hospital. “Meals & Mahalo” is a way to share aloha and appreciation at a time when healthcare workers are suffering from burnout and fatigue as COVID-19 marches on.

“This [Meals & Mahalo] provides so much encouragement for our nurses and doctors, especially the respiratory therapists,” said Elena Cabatu, director of Marketing and Public Affairs at Hilo Medical Center. “They’re going to battle every day when they come to work. When we receive mālama from the community, it helps us to press on.”

Serving alongside OHA are many Native Hawaiian-owned businesses who are cooking and serving up lunches with aloha. Many of the participating Native Hawaiian businesses have been recipients of OHA Mālama Loans and feel compelled to pay it forward, such as Liquid Life, an organic holistic health cafe and juice bar with three locations on Hawaiʻi Island.

“We started our company to help heal our community, so to be able to provide food for healthcare workers who are literally healing Hawaiʻi is such a rewarding experience,” said Puna Tripp, owner of Liquid Life. “This is a beautiful part of living in a place where we can come together as ʻohana, in big or small ways, during times of need.”

For Fran and Aaron Kalei of Kalei’s Lunch Box on Maui, the pandemic has hit close to home. Fran lost her 97-year-old mother to COVID-19 in August 2020. Shortly after her mother passed, they decided to feed the Maui Medical Center staff lunch as a mahalo for caring for Fran’s mother and so many loved ones in the community. Since then, Fran and Aaron have looked for opportunities to donate to various businesses and organizations impacted by the pandemic.

“Sometimes it’s not about the money,” said Fran Kalei. “We have a passion to serve and feed the community. We want to take care of our frontline workers – from those in the hospitals to our firefighters and police. We are all in this together.”

In November, OHA delivered meals to hospitals on Lānaʻi and Molokaʻi. They partnered with the Taste of Molokaʻi, whose owner has ties with the OHA Mālama Loans Program as well.

“This has been a wonderful opportunity to work together with our OHA Mālama Loan recipients to serve our community,” said OHA Mālama Loans Program Manager Clarence Aikūʻē Kalima. “These businesses crafted special menus to share their aloha through food, and also took the extra step to deliver this food and voice their appreciation to our frontline workers. We are grateful for this demonstration of aloha and for their hearts of service.”