A half-dozen Oahu restaurateurs big and small have joined forces to create a program that will deliver free meals to residents of lower-income senior housing facilities on Oahu, and possibly other needy, during the crisis caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Aloha Beer owner Steve Sombrero and several restaurant operators were joined Friday by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell in announcing the establishment of the Malama Meals COVID-19 Community Meal Program program at a news conference at Fisherman’s Wharf in Kakaako.
The program is slated to begin today. The initial group of senior housing facilities includes Whitmore Circle Apartments, Kumuwai, Manoa Gardens, Na Lei Hulu Kupuna, Franciscan Vistas Ewa Beach and West Loch Elderly Village.
The coalition is self-funded but is looking for grants from local foundations and donors to support the effort. The hope is that the program can be expanded to help other needy if other businesses join the program, Sombrero said.
Interested restaurateurs can find information on doing so at malamameals.org.
Those in need can also request meals online at the Malama Meals website.
“We want to keep this going for as long as we can,” Sombrero said.
“We’re going to be reaching out to the community, to all of the businesses to partner with us, because this is a very serious problem we’re trying to solve,” he said. “We shouldn’t be running from the problem. We should be running toward it and helping the weakest members of our community, and these are the senior citizens.”
The program is the brainchild of Ahmad Ramadan and Ako Kifuji, the couple that owns Da Spot Health Food and Juices and who approached Sombrero about the idea.
Sombrero said many food establishments and businesses are complying with Caldwell’s order to stop dine-in food service effective Friday morning.
“We complied with your order, shut down our business, sent our employees home and we have a lot of inventory left in our facilities,” Sombrero said.
Many seniors are locked down right now as a result of the outbreak. “While the rest of the world is lining up at the stores to buy toilet paper, they’re locked down so have no way of coming out and getting the food that they need.”
Ramadan agreed. “We have an excess of (food) and no ability to push it out,” he said.
The work created by the program also might make it easier for him to keep employees on the job, Ramadan said.
At least some of the food will be prepared and cooked out of Da Spot’s central kitchen at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu, and sponsors with food trucks will make the deliveries to the seniors, Ramadan said.
The program is being coordinated by the city Department of Community Services.
Besides Aloha Beer and Da Spot, coalition partners include Applebee’s, IHOP and Olive Garden restaurants, Blue Water Shrimp and Aloha Venues.
Caldwell said he was grateful for the effort and believes it might inspire others to do the same. “This is one example, I hope, of many in the future of how do we to get through this with aloha,” he said.