HAENA — Connecting people with food to help nourish their bodies and allow them to focus on one less expense on their checklist, and one less worry, is a wonderful thing.
It’s this kind of service and relief that Mea‘ai on Wheels program provides by giving away 80 meals daily to the needy in the flood-impacted Wainiha and Haena communities.
Hana Neerings started the program that has been operating out of Haena at Opakapaka Grill and Bar since the beginning of February. Food for the meals is provided by the Hawaii FoodBank. Megan Fox, executive director of Malama Kauai, helped put the “wheels” in Mea‘ai on Wheels by writing a proposal for the program.
A broad spectrum of people benefit from Mea‘ai on Wheels, including those with medical conditions, retired individuals and low-income families. Providing meals for those who need it most is key, Neerings adds.
“We want to help kupuna, especially ones who are taking care of children,” she said. “Anyone taking care of kids automatically gets help.”
Neerings also pointed out that the recovery process following the flood is ongoing.
“I hear there’s a second wave of trauma going on, people still need help, especially kupuna and families,” she said. “There will always be people that need help, like those that have medical conditions such as diabetes and heart conditions.”
Neerings has received great feedback from people who have been benefiting from the program, and even one child who heartily thanked her for giving them nutritious meals with lots of vegetables.
The idea for the program began with Jessica Lindman, who got the ball rolling on meals for the community, which she did while working out of the YMCA Camp Naue.
Neerings adds, “Jessica is the heart and soul of this effort. She started the community kitchen at Camp Naue, and we wouldn’t be here without her.”
After the April floods and devastation, Lindman realized that there was a need, and essentially swooped in to provide meals for everyone in the community. According to Malama Kauai, between 175 to 300 people including first responders were fed hot, nutritious meals through the community kitchen.
The grassroots effort was initially funded through donations and Hawaii Foodbank. When Camp Naue no longer served as a community center or kitchen, Lindman started a mobile meal program which then provided 65 dinners three days a week for residents in need. In July, the effort ended as a result of a lack of funding for staffing and food.
Now Neerings is continuing the effort with Mea‘ai on Wheels operating out of Opakapaka Bar and Grill. It would seem a natural place to host the program, since complimentary community meals have been provided for local residents at Opakapaka during the months following the flood.
In the kitchen it’s fast-paced work.
“It’s rewarding to give back. It’s nice to see how happy everyone is,” kitchen helper Kaleo Franks said as she opened several jars and cans of ingredients as part of her meal preparation.
Neerings tossed some delectable items into a food processor and gave it a whirl, and fellow chef Moki Haumea cracked some eggs over a bowl. Haumea nodded in agreement.
“It’s great to see everyone’s happy faces after they get their food,” she said.
Together with her team from the kitchen, they distribute meals from neighborhood to neighborhood. Each day, 80 meals are prepared, packed and delivered in eco-friendly glass containers.
As for the future of the program, there is enough funding to continue Mea‘ai on Wheels for four months. Neerings hopes this is only the beginning of a long, successful program.
“We want to make the program continue indefinitely,” she said. “There are always people in need.”
Monique Rowan, a lifelong North Shore resident, lives in Wainiha and writes occasionally for The Garden Island.