The Hawaiian proverb “Kōkua aku, kōkua mai, pēlā ihola ka nohona ʻohana” translates to “Family life requires an exchange of mutual help and recognition.” In Hawaiʻi, ʻohana includes immediate and extended family, with each member coming together and recognizing how their kōkua (assistance) contributes to the greater good.
As Hawai‘i’s flagship carrier, Hawaiian Airlines is passionate about the wellbeing of our local communities – especially during the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 virus. As we face the pandemic’s impact on the state’s tourism industry and aviation sector, aloha continues to permeate through our employees’ work – both on and off the job.
Our all-employee volunteer group, Team Kōkua, has played a pivotal role in engaging our colleagues and coordinating opportunities for people wanting to help when it’s needed the most.
“For me the real value of kōkua is to live into that verb – of the doing, of the experiencing,” said Debbie Nākānelua-Richards, director of community and cultural relations at Hawaiian Airlines. “We haven’t needed to put volunteer calls out as much in the past several weeks as a result of so many employees across our organization coming to us and saying, ‘help me find a way to give back.’ I think there is something wonderful to be said about that…it’s been incredible.”
Team Kōkua has remained steadfast in helping local partner organizations, including Lanakila Meals on Wheels and Hawaii Foodbank, maintain critical services to our most vulnerable neighbors.
Caring for Our Kūpuna with Lanakila Meals on Wheels
Lanakila Meals on Wheels prepares and delivers some 30,000 nutritious meals each month to over a thousand kūpuna (elderly) statewide.
Their services have become increasingly important to kūpuna who are at a greater risk of health complications from COVID-19 and rely on the organization’s food aid.
“There’s so much value in giving back to a place like Lanakila, whose whole impetus started in 1939,” said Nākānelua-Richards. “It’s incredible to think about the origins of our organizations and how we were around at the same time. Being able to come together during challenging times is a true reflection of our strong relationship.”
“I started delivering for Lanakila Meals on Wheels in 2017 with my daughter Chloe’s school,” said Rhonda Matthews, senior director of human resources at Hawaiian Airlines. “We continue to volunteer because the relationships we have with the kūpuna we deliver to means so much to us. It’s nice to see the purple Team Kōkua T-shirts sprinkled throughout Lanakila.”
Matthews recently joined Team Kōkua with home deliveries, driving through O‘ahu neighborhoods as her daughter reads off the names and addresses of the day’s recipients from the backseat. At each stop, they carry the carefully packaged meals from their car to each kupuna's doorsteps.
Clayton Arakawa, home delivery supervisor at Lanakila Meals on Wheels, recalls that “Hawaiian Airlines has always been there.”
Reflecting on the community’s longtime support of his group, he says he enjoys seeing volunteer relationships grow stronger.
“They literally become family. We have regular Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday groups, and they have a lot of fun doing it. They become a community of friends,” Arakawa said. “You also see mothers and daughters delivering, husbands and wives, and they build excellent relationships with these kūpuna. And most times, for these kūpuna, the highlight of their day is seeing these volunteers.”
Helping Local Families with the Hawaii Foodbank
The Hawaii Foodbank has spent the last 35 years ensuring that no one in Hawaiʻi goes hungry, and its role has become even more critical as the COVID-19 economic fallout impacts communities statewide. Last year the Hawaii Foodbank distributed about one million pounds of food per month, reaching one in eight families throughout Hawaiʻi. However, Marielle Terbio, director of community engagement and volunteer at Hawaii Foodbank, says the number has gone up and will continue to grow.
“For me, the mission was very important,” Terbio said. “I grew up in a single-parent household, low-income family, and that’s primarily who Hawaii Foodbank serves. We see Hawaiʻi as one ʻohana.”
“We’ve seen an uptick in the food that’s going out,” she explained. "Many people in the community have lost or are at risk of losing their job, and some aren't even able to work because they are caring for their keiki who are not at school or family members who are sick."
In response to the nonprofit’s growing needs, Team Kōkua has spent some 134 hours helping Hawaii Foodbank staff sort food inventory over the past two weeks. Together, over 50 volunteers organized an influx of food donations including produce, canned goods, and bread, for families facing hardship.
“I really appreciate their sincere want to kōkua and willingness to do what it takes to fulfill the mission, their reliability, and most importantly, that they do it with a smile,” Terbio said.
After helping sort produce at a recent volunteer shift, Elisa Asato, marketing promotions specialist at Hawaiian Airlines, said, “I am lucky that I get to volunteer because I know that there are people out there who cannot help at this time. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, so if I can make someone laugh, it helps to brighten up everyone’s day. The saying is true, ‘A smile goes a long way.’”
Giving back in times like these is vital, Asato added. “It’s so important that we continue to help nonprofit organizations like Lanakila Meals on Wheels and Hawaii Foodbank when we’re able to,” she said. “Even dedicating a few hours of your time to help can make a huge difference.”