Aviation

How Hawaiian Airlines is giving back during a time of hardship

Iwalani Kualii Kahoohanohano

As Hawaii’s flagship carrier, Hawaiian Airlines is passionate about the wellbeing of its local communities – especially during the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 virus.

As the airline faces the pandemic’s impact on the state’s tourism industry and aviation sector, aloha continues to permeate through its employees’ work – both on and off the job.

Hawaiian Airlines’ all-employee volunteer group, Team Kokua, has played a pivotal role in engaging its colleagues and coordinating opportunities for people wanting to help when it’s needed the most.

“For me, the real value of kokua (assistance) is to live into that verb – of the doing, of the experiencing,” said Debbie Nakanelua-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 organisation 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 Kokua has remained steadfast in helping local partner organisations, including Lanakila Meals on Wheels and Hawaii Foodbank, maintain critical services to the airline’s most vulnerable neighbours.

Caring for the kupuna with Lanakila Meals on Wheels

Lanakila Meals on Wheels prepares and delivers some 30,000 nutritious meals each month to over 1,000 kupuna (elderly) statewide.

Their services have become increasingly important to kupuna who are at a greater risk of health complications from COVID-19 and rely on the organisation’s food aid.

“There’s so much value in giving back to a place like Lanakila, whose whole impetus started in 1939,” Nakanelua-Richards said.

“It’s incredible to think about the origins of our organisations 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.”

Rhonda Matthews, senior director of human resources at Hawaiian Airlines, started delivering for Lanakila Meals on Wheels in 2017 with her daughter Chloe’s school.

“We continue to volunteer because the relationships we have with the kupuna we deliver to means so much to us,” she said.

“It’s nice to see the purple Team Kokua t-shirts sprinkled throughout Lanakila.”

Matthews recently joined Team Kokua with home deliveries, driving through Oahu neighbourhoods 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, said Hawaiian Airlines has always been there for the organisation.

Reflecting on the community’s longtime support of his group, Arakawa said 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 kupuna. And most times, for these kupuna, 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 Hawaii 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 Hawaii.

However, Marielle Terbio, director of community engagement and volunteer at Hawaii Foodbank, said 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 Hawaii as one ohana.

“We’ve seen an uptick in the food that’s going out. 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 non-profit’s growing needs, Team Kokua has spent some 134 hours helping Hawaii Foodbank staff sort food inventory over the past two weeks. Together, over 50 volunteers organised an influx of food donations including produce, canned goods and bread for families facing hardship.

“I really appreciate their sincere want to kokua and willingness to do what it takes to fulfil 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 non-profit organisations 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.”


This article has been edited and republished with permission from Hawaiian Airlines. All images were supplied by the airline.

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