Hometown Heroes: Honoka‘a Hongwanji Buddhist Temple feeding and building the community

  • Todd Newland, Karee Hall, Nick Newland, Linda Feldthausen and Eda Rassner were among the volunteers working in the temple social hall New Year’s Day, preparing more than 250 bags of groceries and produce.

  • Volunteers from the Downstairs Plating Crew join the Upstairs Distribution Crew: Ravi Singh, Eric Burkhardt, Miles Okumura, Linda Feldthausen, Fiona Weingartner, Janet Saito, Pam Yeaton, Lynn Higashi and Wendy Murakami. (Peace Committee/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Shigeko Bachino volunteers each Friday morning, preparing vegetables and salad. (Peace Committee/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Janet Saito, Paul Zivalec, Vince Keelan follow the directions of Chef Jasmine Silverstein, preparing kabocha pumpkin to accompany pork adobo. (Photos by Peace Committee/Special to West Hawaii Today)

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.

February marks two years since the Peace Committee of Honoka‘a Hongwanji Buddhist Temple began sharing hot meals through its Feeding Our Keiki and Kupuna program, and the all-volunteer community labor of love has now fed more than 20,000.

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What started as a Hamakua Youth Center cultural education/cooking class for kids has expanded into a weekly Friday meal and grocery bag service for hundreds in the community. In addition to serving a hot dinner from 4-5:30 p.m., volunteers also distribute about 3,500 pounds of groceries and produce weekly, and several delivery crews deliver meals and grocery bags to kupuna and shut-ins.

“We also make up different grocery bags for families and for those people with no place to cook,” said Ravi Singh, who co-created the event with Peace Committee Chairman Miles Okumura.

Singh and Okumura said the feeding program “takes a village.” They work closely with the Food Basket, as well as local farmers, restaurants and dozens of volunteers. Professional chefs have stepped up to help as well. Chef Jasmine Silverstein of Sweet Cane Cafe in Hilo regularly prepares pork adobo, and Chef Sandy Barr-Rivera, former executive chef at Merriman’s Waimea and culinary instructor at Hawaii Community College, supervises preparation of offerings such as meat stew (featuring venison from Maui), meat chili (with local beef), and spaghetti with whole wheat pasta. Singh himself is known for enthusiastically preparing vegan and vegetarian Indian fare.

“The chefs are joyful to work with,” Singh said. “We also have wonderful people like Eric Burkhardt who runs the plating crew. He worked front office for a fine dining restaurant on the mainland and oversaw a 40-person waitstaff.”

Singh said the feeding program is about addressing food insecurity, and more importantly, building community.

“When people are breaking bread together they can take on bigger problems,” Singh said. “When we get together and leverage resources, it’s not about economic need — it’s about building community. Community can solve any problem.”

The Feeding Our Keiki and Kupuna team welcomes new members for a variety of tasks, from picking up food to preparation, delivery and clean-up. Donations of simple items (paper bags, produce, pinto beans, rice) are appreciated, as well as children’s books and funds. Checks can be mailed to Peace Committee, memo: For Feeding, PO Box 1667, Honoka‘a, HI 96727.

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For more information, visit www.honokaahongwanjibuddhisttemple.org/peace-committee or contact Miles Okumura, misterokumura@gmail.com, (808) 640-4602.

Know a Hometown Hero who 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 cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.

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