Volunteers from businesses of broadly divergent nature aid in delivering meals to seniors and the disabled across Oahu
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 28, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 11:15 a.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014
Hawaii Meals on Wheels supports a demographic that is often overlooked, isolated and forgotten.
Making, packaging and distributing meals to Hawaii's seniors and disabled is no easy task, but it is one that some local businesses have integrated into their company's credo.
Hawaii Meals on Wheels is one of two Oahu programs that provide hot meals to 300 to 400 elderly and disabled residents year-round, from Monday to Friday. The other group is Lanakila Meals on Wheels.
Hawaii Meals on Wheels has relationships with various food production companies, which often subsidize the price of cooking and packaging. Last year the nonprofit delivered more than 83,000 meals throughout the island, said Executive Director Claire Shimabukuro.
"Every year, we serve more meals per week," Shimabukuro said. "Everyone (as they age) is going to be impacted by being isolated or homebound."
One of the organization's many benefactors is retirement community Kahala Nui, where about 50 meals per day are prepared for Hawaii Meals on Wheels. The Kahala Nui management team also does a weekly delivery to upper Palolo.
"We felt that in addition to serving the seniors that live here at Kahala Nui, we have a greater obligation to serve the community," said Kahala Nui Chief Executive Pat Duarte.
Shimabukuro said First Insurance Co. of Hawaii and Jani-King Hawaii, a janitorial management company, are two of the most generous benefactors of the program, which began in 1979.
"Our slogan is meals from the heart, food for the soul," Shimabukuro said. These "organizations really exemplify that."
When federal and state funding for Meals on Wheels was cut in 2007, Shimabukuro said the nonprofit "immediately" received a call from First Insurance CEO Allen Uyeda asking how much it was losing. When she informed him that the sum was about $3,500, First Insurance gave the organization a grant for the amount, and regularly supports the nonprofit by purchasing tables at the Hawaii Meals on Wheels' annual gala.
Jani-King, a commercial cleaning service, also regularly purchases tables, which cost several thousand dollars, says part-owner Mark Pennington.
Pennington has been volunteering for Hawaii Meals on Wheels for about a decade. He spent his first five years as a driver delivering meals on a weekly route through downtown, but switched to an Aiea route when Jani-King moved to the Leeward side. Pennington gives his employee Joy Yoshihara an hour and a half off every Thursday morning so she can be a driver as well.
He sees his role as much more than mere deliveryman. His favorite stop on the route is the house of a woman with whom he has developed a close relationship over the years.
"The first time I met her, she was sitting up in her patio," Pennington said. "She had tripped, fell and broke her knee. As we talked, I sensed a depression in her. She said, ‘I'm so sad because I'm a shut-in now. I can't get out of this chair, I can't go anywhere. I used to be very active.'"
Pennington began delivering her meal last, bringing a lunch so they can eat together each Friday.
Pennington is thinking about expanding community involvement with his small employee base, about 11 people, in the future.
"Community involvement is so lacking and so important," Pennington said. "I would want my employees to feel like they are giving back in some small way."
First Insurance is a much larger company and has incorporated employee participation in its Meals on Wheels volunteerism. The company rotates a handful of employees to deliver meals along a Punchbowl route twice a week during their lunch break, said corporate communication specialist Kaela Wasnich.
Three to four associates will serve as volunteer drivers, someone to carry the food up to the home and otherwise assist in delivery, Wasnich said.
"FICOH, a very competitive private insurance company, gives employees discretionary time to give back on a regular basis. That's pretty amazing," Shimabukuro said. "They manage the routes themselves (through their) 150 volunteers. The dates of the annual routes are listed. (The) list fills up in less than a half-hour for the next 12 months."
Wasnich said, "We have 300-some-odd employees, and roughly half do Meals on Wheels (deliveries) at least once a year."
Volunteer for Hawaii Meals on Wheels can call 988-6747 for more information.