Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The gears never stop turning at the Rotary Club of Kona, not even during a pandemic.
“Locally, we find immediate needs, and we try to alleviate those needs in the community,” said Rebecca Hamar, co-president of the club. “When Puna was devastated with the lava situation, we would often send water and food and shelters, and help other community organizations provide the same.”
Rotary of Kona has always been involved in feeding the community through its nonprofit “Meet ‘n Eat” program, among others, but the COVID-19 pandemic’s shutdown of Kona’s tourism industry has turned even more toward community support groups to help feed their families.
“The need is over 7,000 a week,” Hamar said.
That’s 28,000 meals a month, and Rotary has been doing stepped-up production since March. That’s 140,000 or more, with no sign of stopping.
To meet that need, Rotary partners with The Salvation Army, which also has community food programs, and other community service organizations like the Lions Club and church groups.
“Basically, Rotary is the umbrella for the most part,” said Scott Unger, who organizes and runs Rotary’s food distribution. “Two of The Salvation Army captains are also part of Rotary.”
While Rotary’s Meet ‘n Eat is “a real neat program going on for 30 years up at Kealakehe,” Unger said, “it’s separate from The Salvation Army, but we’re going to get into the process of combining them.”
The teamwork involved is both staggering and heartening.
“We stepped in and are providing meals for the Salvation Army to serve,” Hamar said. “Right now we’re trying to find funds to help us help the Salvation Army and our own food programs that we’ve been involved with. We’ve expanded to Kahakai Elementary School, we do lunches and if we have extra food to donate, we give that away, too.”
Unger added, “During the pandemic Meet ‘n Eat, we moved to Saturday lunches, and distributed sandwiches and about 150 food baskets every day. Last Saturday was our final one, and we’re moving back to Tuesday night.”
And how does this teamwork DO the work?
“We needed a kitchen to produce our meals,” Unger said. “Salvation Army has that, and they offered to prepare our Meet ‘n Eat meals on Tuesday nights. We pay for all the ingredients, and it will be made by Salvation Army, and then we’ll distribute the meals.
“The Lions Club has also helped in distributing for us, they’ve been really great; they’ve taken on distribution for one Tuesday every month. Rotary provides the funds, SA cooks and produces the meal, and then the Lions Club will box and distribute the meals. We’re looking for other groups to come take on a Tuesday night of distribution, too.”
To support the effort and help keep their food fresh, Young Brothers donated a 20-foot refrigerated shipping container, which Unger said was “nothing short of awesome. To store all the refrigerated items, it has allowed us to really expand the program.”
So if you have some spare cash, join The Hawaii Community Foundation and Kona Castle Ranch in supporting Rotary’s efforts through www.rotaryclubofkona.com. All donations go directly into food programs for the Kona community, with no administration costs. Or if your church or nonprofit wants to distribute meals, contact Scott Unger at 747-7311.
“We’re all part of the team here,” Unger said. “We benefit the community and the world.”
Know a Hometown Hero that should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to email@example.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.
Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to correct mention of a now-remedied shortage at The Food Basket. Rotary Club of Kona now acquires food from The Food Basket every week.