Hometown Heroes: Kahiau Together initiative keeping the community fed

  • Volunteers load vehicles with a Kahiau Together bundle during the 18th drive-through food distribution event held Monday in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Volunteers load vehicles with a Kahiau Together bundle during the 18th drive-through food distribution event held Monday in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Volunteers wave to a driver after placing a Kahiau Together bundle in a vehicle during the 18th drive-through food distribution event held Monday in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Volunteers direct vehicles to the proper spot to receive a Kahiau Together bundle during the 18th drive-through food distribution event held Monday in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Volunteers load vehicles with a Kahiau Together bundle during the 18th drive-through food distribution event held Monday in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kahiau Together bundles are stacked ready to be distributed.

  • Volunteers welcome the community to the 18th Kahiau Together drive-through food distribution effort Monday in Kailua-Kona. (Photos by Chelsea Jensen/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.

More than 80,000 meals have been served over the past year through the Kahiau Together initiative created by Ironman to support the Big Island community amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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As the pandemic roared on in 2020, the impact on the Big Island became clear as hotels closed, restaurants and shops were shuttered, and the very volunteers who help make the iconic Ironman World Championship happen became one of the hardest hit.

Under the leadership of Diana Bertsch, senior vice president, World Championship Events for The Ironman Group, the local Ironman Hawaii team was inspired to take action, creating Kahiau Together, an aid station and drive-through food distribution effort to feed as many members of the community as possible. The mission of the program is built from the Hawaiian word Kahiau, meaning to give generously or lavishly from the heart while not expecting anything in return.

In support of the Ironman Hawaii team’s mission, the Ironman Foundation pledged $1 million to help feed the Big Island community, home of the Ironman World Championship, through Kahiau Together’s local food distribution program. The Kahiau Together Aid Station drive-through events, which began last July, continue to distribute more than 600 food bundles of locally sourced fresh proteins, fruits, vegetables and starches.

To date, more than 82,000 meals have been served through 18 distribution events, the most recent held Monday at Kona International Marketplace in Kailua-Kona.

“With the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has caused around the globe and locally in Hawaii, all of us at Ironman are reminded of the importance of taking care of our ohana when times are tough,” Bertsch said. “The people of Hawaii are resilient and we want our ohana locally to know we are still here to support the community through Kahiau Together. With this program, we will be distributing food sourced from local producers every month, doing what is right, sharing with others. Not only is our community being fed, our local farmers, fishermen and ranchers are benefiting too. We will all endure the impacts of the pandemic together, as well as take a step back to reflect and be grateful for what we have, and how we are able to lift others up during challenging times.”

The 43rd running of the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, which was to be held Oct. 10, 2020, was canceled due to the pandemic. The grueling triathlon featuring a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run is set to return Oct. 9, 2021.

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For more information, visit www.ironmanfoundation.org/kahiau-together.

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 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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