Paula Fuga, a Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning artist, was reduced to tears Friday after some members of a radio crew made fun of her after she shared her story of childhood hunger during a benefit for the Hawaii Food Bank.
The exchange between Fuga and Island 98.5 hosts Rory Wild, Kreyz Oshiro, and “Slick Vic” Harris has lit up social media.
A Facebook post of Fuga’s breakdown already had drawn more than 696 comments and 1,000 shares by Sunday evening. Most of the comments praised Fuga for her authenticity and talent, and bashed Island 98.5 radio for allowing her to be mocked during the “Thanks Fo’ Giving” fundraiser.
iHeartmedia Honolulu declined to provide an immediate comment about the incident.
The Hawaii Food Bank said in a statement on Sunday, “Hunger is not something to joke about, and making light of someone’s experiences does not align with the goals of our mission. We are incredibly grateful for Paula’s spirit, support and willingness to share her testimony.”
“While we are also thankful for the support raised by the radiothon and its sponsors, the comments made by the hosts during this segment do not reflect to views of Hawaii Foodbank,” the Hawaii Food Bank said. “Our leadership team is meeting to determine how to appropriately handle this situation. In the meantime, we appreciate everyone’s communication, understanding and patience.”
Fuga did not return a call to the Star-Advertiser on Sunday.
However, in a social media post, she said, “Kindness is what we need more of in our world and I hope this becomes a teachable moment. One that incites heartfelt generosity and genuine compassion for the families and especially the children of Hawai’i, who are likely experiencing hunger now more than ever, due to the economic crisis brought by this pandemic.”
She expressed gratitude for the “overwhelming outpouring of support for me in what I felt was a vulnerable situation. I survived a lot worse than bullying throughout my life and wish no one any ill will.”
The pandemic has caused increasing numbers of Hawaii residents to suffer food insecurity. As of Friday, Hawaii Foodbank has distributed nearly 19.5 million pounds of food since mid-March and purchased more than $ 8.25 million worth of food.
Fuga has performed at the White House three times and she has teamed up with music legends Ziggy Marley and Jack Johnson.
She got her start as a songwriter in high school when she began studying under master ukulele instructor Roy Sakuma.
But her success did not come easy.
During the radio fundraiser, she shared, “When I was a little kid, I used to be homeless on the beach so I benefited from things like this, from people giving. It’s something that I really don’t talk about … I’ve eaten from a trash can when I was a little girl. I’m been hungry before.”
Then Harris interjected, “Is it right out of the trash can or do you put it on a plate first?”
Fuga laughed, but then said, “No like I could cry thinking about it. Like in the dark with my hand from a trash can.”
Later she asked the hosts, “Do you have a box of tissues.”
In response, Harris joked, “No, but we got a trash can right over there by the bar.
Oshiro, replied, “What just in case she’s hungry?”
A visibly upset Fuga said, “I don’t eat from a trash can anymore.”
Wild, the lead talent on the show, did not engage in the jokes about Fuga’s past food insecurities. His comments were focused on soliciting donations. He also thanked Fuga and said “people donated because she sang.”
When it was Harris’ turn to close out the exchange, he said, “Looks like Paula wants to say something.”
Fuga said, “Yeah, Vic. You made me cry. What a jerk.”
Oshiro said, “Good one Vic.”
Then she said, “Kids, even as an adult, there will still be jerks who make fun of you and your pain. I mean what the hell is your problem? I’m so sad right now. I don’t want to sing.”
The visibly shaken Fuga was then escorted off the stage by Flash Hansen, 98.5 director of promotions and marketing.
Honolulu City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine said “I want to thank Paula Fuga for telling her story. Because it’s stories like this that are not being told right now.”
She urged compassion and sensitivity for people who are experiencing hunger and need.
She also urged forgiveness for the radio hosts, who are are “used to making jokes about people no matter what the situation. I think they feel very bad about it and need to take the situation as a moment to reflect about what is to come. We need to prepare ourselves for a lot of people suffering.”
Pine said the situation won’t be helped by “hurting people further who made a mistake.”