comscore Q&A with Salvation Army officer helping to deliver meals in Hawaii during COVID-19 pandemic | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Q&A with Salvation Army officer helping to deliver meals in Hawaii during COVID-19 pandemic

                                Maj. Phil Lum helps The Salvation Army deliver thousands of meals to those in need during the pandemic.


    Maj. Phil Lum helps The Salvation Army deliver thousands of meals to those in need during the pandemic.

How is your food assistance and support effort in response to COVID-19 going?

The Salvation Army Kroc Center has prepared and distributed from its kitchen — to kupuna, homeless and families in need throughout Central and West Oahu — more than 30,000 individual meals. We have coordinated with a number of housing complexes, agencies and community coalitions to distribute these meals to those most in need. Our chef, with the help of our staff and volunteers, works tirelessly to prepare these meals, which are frozen to maintain safety before being distributed to various distribution points.

We also hold a drive-thru distribution for hundreds of families every week from our large Kroc Center parking lot in Ewa Beach. Donated items of fresh produce, milk, eggs, juice, cookies, candy and more have been given to families who are struggling to put food on their tables. We’ve even been able to provide pet food.

As we get deeper into this pandemic, we have seen the demand for food and meals increase each week. We have been doing this now for about six weeks and our staff and volunteers have become quite proficient in producing and distributing meals and food baskets. We also offer prayer and emotional and spiritual support, and we have discovered that during these uncertain times, many people need someone to listen and to empathize with them. During one of our drive-thru distributions, we received more than 60 requests for prayer.

What types of items are you collecting now for distribution?

Through a grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation, we have been named one of three “Resiliency Hubs” on Oahu in response to the coronavirus outbreak. (Other nonprofits include YMCA of Honolulu and KEY Project). Each hub is a donation site for the community to contribute homemade and store-bought PPE (personal protective equipment). We’re distributing the PPE to support behavioral health workers and social service providers. The Kroc Center’s hub is open on weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon.

In addition to PPE masks, gloves, face shields, gowns and aprons, we’re collecting from the public new and unopened items including: non-perishable food items (rice, pasta, canned meats, canned vegetables and canned fruits), baby diapers, formula and baby food, adult incontinence products (Depends), personal hygiene basics (shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush and deodorant), cleaning supplies (hand sanitizer, paper towels, sanitizing wipes, disinfectant spray/cleaners), toilet paper (wrapped), and sewing supplies (fabric, thread and elastic) for masks.

Also, our kitchen is in need of bulk food supplies such as protein, rice and fresh produce for our prepared meals. And we are always in need of financial donations, which allow us to boost our economy as we purchase products locally. Donations may be made online, And statewide outreach programs can be found at

In the aftermath of Kroc Center furloughs, how are you managing? Are volunteers needed?

Due to the city’s “shelter in place” ordinance, the center closed its normal operations as an active community center (swimming pools, fitness center, preschool, performing arts classes, conferences, events, church, etc.) and transitioned into an emergency response service center. We had to furlough many of our staff and pivot operations.

I am very proud of how our employees responded as they have now become frontline essential workers valiantly serving our community. And yes, we are in need of volunteers to assist with delivering meals, prepping for our weekly distributions and receiving donations.

What’s on the horizon for the center in regards to plans for reopening?

Along with our 10,000-plus members, I’m anxiously looking forward to reopening as soon as possible. The center’s closure has been tough on our employees and our patrons because we have a real sense of community and ohana here, and we have missed that.

I know that we will be facing a “new normal,” so we are preparing to address a new set of expectations. We will slowly open a few areas of the center first and then the others will follow as restrictions are lifted. In the long term, we hope to be fully operational, and we plan to continue our outreach to the community as further needs are identified.

You have served as a Salvation Army officer for some three decades now?

On my Salvation Army uniform, which I’ve worn for 35 years, there are two S’s on the insignia on my shoulders. The letters stand for “Saved to Serve.” God has saved me, for which I am eternally grateful. But He has saved me for a purpose, and that is to serve. I get the greatest joy by serving others, and my calling as a Salvation Army officer allows me to do just that. I also find it very rewarding to give others the opportunity to discover that same joy in service.


>> Job title: administrator/corps officer at The Salvation Army Kroc Center Hawaii. Lum’s wife, Debbie, is also a corps officer at the center.

>> Salvation Army assignments: 14 years in Hawaii, preceded by service in western mainland states and the Marshall Islands.

>> Personal: I was born in San Francisco. My parents were Salvation Army officers, so we moved quite often. Alaska, Arizona and in Hawaii, Honolulu, Hilo and Lihue.

>> Education: Bachelor’s degree in religious studies, University of Arizona

>> Pastimes: Pulling practical jokes, shrimp trucks

>> Favorite saying: “Hope is greater than fear,” a front-and-center Salvation Army theme tied to COVID-19 relief efforts in Hawaii and elsewhere.

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