Fostering community resilience for most vulnerable
by Sharon Higa | Aug. 16, 2021
Like many across the globe, I lost loved ones during the pandemic, maybe not to the disease itself but the circumstances resulting from it. My cousins and I juggled grocery shopping and meal drop offs for family, and I’m grateful I was able to see and talk to my Aunty Doris — albeit from six feet away — before she died peacefully at a hospice. Family is so important at times like these, but what about for those without a safety net?
Part of Hawaiian Electric’s efforts to bolster community resilience has been to fund charitable initiatives that are helping individuals and communities — especially vulnerable populations — prepare, weather and recover from the storms of life. Highlighted here are just a few of the many innovative programs we’ve supported so you can learn more about them and the nonprofit organizations behind their important work.
You may have been on the road next to one of Aloha Harvest’s delivery vans with the blue and green hearts logo and wondered what it’s all about. For more than 20 years they’ve built a network of food donors and social service agencies that feed the hungry all across Oahu and rescued over 22.5 million pounds of food. That’s a staggering amount that would otherwise have gone into a landfill and released methane — a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide — into the environment.
A grant from Hawaiian Electric and other organizations is helping Aloha Harvest launch its aiRescue Program that will expand coverage and scale-up operations through a network of volunteers, improve impact by rescuing more food and engaging community in the effort, and increase efficiency using technology. The program will pilot in urban Honolulu where numerous restaurants as well as many of the largest homeless shelters and food pantry operations are located.
Staff and volunteers will be trained to use a cloud-based mobile app to find out in real-time where food needs to be rescued and where to deliver it within the area. That means a quicker response and shorter travel distances. This is pretty cool as it ensures food freshness while also reducing the carbon footprint of rescued food. If you’re interested to learn more or volunteer, check out alohaharvest.org.
Hawaiian Electric also awarded a grant to the grassroots Faith Action for Community Equity nonprofit for its newly launched Environmental Justice task force, a group of about 20 expert volunteers from various positions including the Department of Energy and nonprofits like Biki Hawaii as well as teachers, university students and activists.
The goal of the task force is to examine the climate crisis through the lens of social justice and organize, mobilize and legislate for solutions that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the state’s natural resources. More importantly, these efforts will support Hawaii’s most vulnerable residents — such as hardworking individuals who have several jobs and still cannot make ends meet — who are more likely to feel the impacts of climate change.
Similarly, a Hawaiian Electric grant to the Institute for Climate and Peace is assisting the nonprofit to help build peaceful and climate-resilient communities, especially frontline communities facing growing tensions and the harmful effects of climate change.
Launched in the early days of the 2020 global pandemic, Our Kupuna is a community initiative of the Hawaii Veteran’s Administration Foundation which Hawaiian Electric awarded a grant to support the program’s expansion efforts on Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Hawaii Island and Kauai.
Our Kupuna connects adults 60 years and older with volunteers who are able to pick up and deliver groceries, medication and necessary supplies for them as well as provide emotional and social support through weekly check-ins. These seniors may have underlying health conditions or a disability, rely on government subsidies and health programs, or live in a rural setting without nearby family or a support system to help them. PPEs or personal protective equipment are provided to volunteers as well as reimbursements for food and gas.
“I got involved mainly because I felt a sense of responsibility to help local kupuna in need of assistance,” said Grant Fukuda, an Our Kupuna volunteer and a senior corporate analyst in Hawaiian Electric’s Strategic Development Division. “I had always helped my own grandparents and since they’re now gone there was a void that I was looking to fill by being able to help someone who didn’t have family around to support them.”
For more than a year, Grant has been a lifeline for an elderly woman living alone whose daughter is at high risk and grandchildren live on the mainland. Grant juggles his kupuna’s needs alongside his own family and other volunteer work. “I typically will help pick up food for her on weekends, if needed, and will check in when I’m going to the grocery store, Longs, Costco, or other stores to see if she needs anything. Volunteers should know that it is not a huge time commitment but could make a significant difference for the person you are helping since many don’t drive or have access to transportation.”
When I asked if he would continue to volunteer, Grant was quick to say yes. “I think of the kupuna assigned to me as my extended family. She and her daughter have met my wife and four-year-old son. During the pandemic it was very rewarding to be able to feel as though I was making a tangible difference for someone and I’ll do this as long as they need me.” To learn more or volunteer, visit ourkupuna.com.
Sharon Higa is a senior communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.