Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, Lanakila Pacific first took shape as a “sheltered workshop,” established to help people recover from tuberculosis at a time when the yearly count of reported cases in the islands was upwards of 700. Known then as Lanakila Crafts, the organization later expanded its services to include people with disabilities with the start of Hawaiian crafts manufacturing and a wholesale business.
It has since evolved into a nonprofit that offers programs and operates social enterprises that aim to build independence and improve the quality of life for more than 3,200 individuals with disabilities each year, said Rona Fukumoto, president and CEO. “I am proud to say that 75% of our labor force has a significant disability, but together we overcome those challenges and the quality of our products and services is excellent,” she said.
Among assistance efforts is a training-and-advocacy job skills program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Social enterprises include Lanakila Custom Products, offering silk-screening and embroidery services; Lanakila Kitchen, which prepares spreads for a wide range of clients; and Lanakila Grounds & Custodial Services.
Plus, services tailored for seniors: Lanakila Meals on Wheels and kupuna wellness centers.
“With Hawaii residents’ longer life expectancy and our state’s high cost of living, the demand for senior services has been steadily rising,” Fukumoto said, noting that according to some projections, by year 2025, 30% of the state’s population will be seniors.
Fukumoto, who earned undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in English and public administration, respectively, worked at Catholic Charities Hawaii for 15 years before moving to Lanakila Pacific, initially serving as vice president of programs. She was named to the top post last year.
What does she enjoy most about her work? The people, of course. “Our facility has large open hallways on two floors, bustling with lots of activity. … All it takes is a walk through the halls and a chat with any of our 180 employees or program participants to remember why I love my job. Just the thought of them makes me smile.”
Question: How many homebound seniors are receiving Lanakila meals delivery?
Answer: Lanakila Meals on Wheels is the largest and only islandwide meal provider. In a year, we provide services to nearly 2,400 seniors and individuals with disabilities. Volunteers assist us with packing and delivering meals six days a week, Monday through Saturday.
Q: How is the effort going to include more grown-in-Hawaii produce in meals?
A: Using local and sustainable produce in our meals continues to be a priority. We are incorporating local produce whenever we can, but cost has been a factor. We are working with Feed the Hunger Foundation, a certified Community Development Financial Institution that provides small business loans and technical assistance to farmers and food entrepreneurs, to identify a network of farmers to source from.
We hope to have opportunities to purchase produce directly from farmers, increase access to super fresh nutritious food and help build the local food economy.
Q: How many seniors are taking part in activities and meals at kupuna wellness centers?
A: Each month, about 350 seniors participate in our wellness centers and group dining sites. Participants suggest the type of activities they want to do, and the most popular activities are exercise, games, guest speakers, food demos and outings. The seniors enjoy the exercise program because they see the difference it makes in their balance, flexibility and stamina. They enjoy learning from guest speakers and food demonstrations, and have fun with games and during outings. For example, when the seniors bowl, the entire alley cheers with us when a senior gets a strike!
Q: Lanakila Meals on Wheels is known for special holiday season deliveries. What’s in the works for the big days?
A: … For Thanksgiving we provide a traditional turkey meal with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, succotash and pumpkin pie. Our kitchen — Lanakila Kitchen — is preparing to cook 353 pounds of turkey. For Christmas, we provide a full Hawaiian spread with lau lau, kalua pig and cabbage, chicken long rice, lomi salmon, sweet potato and haupia.
Volunteers will help us pack gifts to accompany our holiday delivery service and the Lanakila Kitchen will spend the preceding week preparing and cooking.
On Thanksgiving Day, we will deliver a warm Thanksgiving meal along with an emergency food care package. On Christmas Day, we will deliver a warm Hawaiian meal along with a Christmas gift. It’s so important that our volunteers are there to bring the joy of the holidays to our homebound seniors and individuals with disabilities. We consider them our family and we want to make sure that no one is alone on the holiday.
Q: How large is your network of volunteers for senior services?
A: It takes about 300 volunteers each week to provide the services we do; and even more for Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks. If someone is interested in volunteering, please contact us to learn about what opportunities are available, or go to our website to complete the volunteer application. (Lanakila Meals on Wheels, phone: 808-356-8519, email: email@example.com, website: www.lanakilapacific.org.)
Q: What’s the enrollment in the abilities training programs?
A: In fiscal year 2019, we served 126 individuals through our employment exploration, training and placement programs. We offer soft skills and hands-on training within our social enterprise areas and pre-employment training at Pearl City High School. Twenty-nine individuals were placed in employment. Each person and job match is unique. We strive to find a good fit for the person’s skills and passion, and we overlay that with consideration of the work hours, geographic area, access to transportation and other factors that help to ensure long-term success.
Q: What are your top few short- or long-term priorities for Lanakila Pacific?
A: Food sustainability has been a concern since last year’s back-to-back scares of Hurricane Lane and Tropical Storm Olivia. We are making efforts to “harden” our facility so that we may keep Lanakila Kitchen operational should a disaster hit Oahu. …
Also, Lanakila Pacific is part of a coalition called the Hawai‘i Hunger Action Network. This network is supported by the Hawaii Community Foundation and their donors, and is housed within the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice — a local policy institute dedicated to building a Hawaii where everyone has genuine opportunities to achieve economic security and fulfill their potential.
This statewide partnership collectively addresses goals in several areas including food insecurity and federal nutrition programs, such as SNAP, child nutrition, senior nutrition and emergency food. Lanakila Pacific intersects with this group on two goals: Improved access to food and quality of life for our kupuna; and seeing to it that everyone who can benefit from SNAP is enrolled and has access to healthy food.
In addition … we have an outreach program to ensure that seniors who are eligible for SNAP benefits can enroll to receive meals and/or purchase fresh produce.
We are currently seeking funding to create a program that will deliver fresh, locally grown produce. Using SNAP benefits to pay for this will invest federal dollars in the local economy. The USDA estimates that every dollar in SNAP benefits spent on local produce can generate $1.79 in economic activity.
Q: What are your priorities for the upcoming legislative session at the state Capitol?
A: We will be supporting measures that create additional funding for senior programs. The growing need to address senior issues has been well-documented and expressed by advocates, but funding increases have been slow. I fear that there are terrible consequences on the way. A growing number of seniors are homeless and that is indicative of an advanced problem. These seniors have already cut food, medicine and other necessities. And now they can no longer hold on to housing. We provide meals to help seniors maintain their independence, but there are so many critical needs that must also be addressed.