Worried about Kaua‘i kupuna nutrition and health during this pandemic, three organizations came together to bless 50 kupuna across the island with garden starter kits earlier this month.
Bob and Sue Carlson of Kekaha were ecstatic to be recipients of the kits. “We appreciate these beautiful plants and look forward to tasting the fruits when they mature,” the Carlsons said. “We will have fun planting and tending to them, and it will be a great physical workout. What a wonderful collaboration between the Kaua‘i Master Gardeners and the Lions.”
Kaua‘i Lions Club member Debby Thompson delivered the garden starter kit to the Carlsons earlier this month. “What a joy it was, delivering these beautiful plants to our kupuna and seeing their look of surprise and smiles of delight,” Thompson said.
The “Safe Starts Plants for Kupuna 2020 Pilot Project” was imagined by Rhian Campbell, a manager at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and Master Gardener Grace Meek, the new service chair for the Kaua‘i Lions Club in Lihu‘e and community health coordinator with Project Vision Hawai‘i.
Kaua‘i Master Gardener volunteers, Kaua‘i Lions Club members and Retired and Senior Volunteer Program volunteers through the county’s Agency on Elderly Affairs were nominated as this week’s Hometown Heroes for their contributions to kupuna.
“They were concerned about the consistency of the food supply that our kupuna relies on for a safe, healthy diet, and they wanted to provide a safe way to cope with the isolation, lack of exercise/recreation options and food-security challenges many Kaua‘i kupuna had been experiencing because of the pandemic,” Campbell said.
“Together with a team of volunteers, Project Safe Starts was developed. A small planning group met regularly via Zoom to outline the Safe Starts program from May to September, and solicited feedback from members of the Kaua‘i Master Gardeners and the Kaua‘i Lions Club,” she said.
Staffing was entirely by volunteers from Kaua‘i Lions Club, University of Hawai‘i Kaua‘i Master Gardeners, Kaua’i RSVP/county Agency on Elderly Affairs, NTBG, Catholic Charities Hawai‘i and other local entities.
Campbell said the UH seeds were planted from mid-August to mid-September by Master Gardener volunteers. The county, with AEA/RSVP, gathered names and managed a list of kupuna recipients, and provided a booklet of kupuna resources to include in the kits.
A comprehensive booklet of plant information and planting guidance, including an email address for support, was crafted by Master Gardener Tom Timmons.
The NTBG provided space and labor to care for the plants as they were gathered together ahead of this month’s deliveries, and assembled the kits along with volunteers from the Lions and the Master Gardeners.
Kaua‘i Lions Club volunteers then delivered the kits to just over 50 recipients from Princeville to Kekaha.
“When I realized that Rhian from NTBG was thinking about how to remedy the isolation, lack of outdoor recreation and food-security issues heightened by the pandemic, my collaboration wheels started turning,” Meek said. “About 20 Lions from four of the island chapters were involved. All labor and supplies for this pilot were donated by the three collaborating organizations.”
Project Safe Starts is based on the model of the “Victory Gardens” during WWII and is a response to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has occasionally depleted supplies in stores on Kaua‘i and has the potential to do so again. The tray of plants, seeds and guide booklets are designed to help kupuna “win the war” for a healthy diet that the pandemic threatens.
The goal is to reestablish or supplement the traditional home garden and help provide food security for the future while enhancing participants’ nutrition, health and wellness.
Volunteers planted, nurtured and grew sprouts, then assembled kits consisting of veggie starts, herb starts, seed packages and instruction booklet, all of which were delivered free of charge to participating kupuna. Funding and many of the supplies were provided by the Kaua‘i Master Gardeners, with other supplies donated by project volunteers and other local businesses.
“When Pat Fallbeck, RSVP volunteer leader with Kaua‘i Master Gardener, reached out to RSVP with the idea and explained who was involved to make it happen, RSVP was excited to learn more,” said Donna Lynn Loo, RSVP director for the AEA.
“The goals of the project encompassed RSVP’s main focus area of healthy futures, particularly improving food security as well as reaching out to kupuna who have been more isolated at home because of COVID-19,” Loo said.
Loo said Meek enlisted the help of an RSVP Project Vision volunteer to assist with a few deliveries.
“And a few of our RSVP volunteers also serve as Kaua‘i Lions members who assisted in the deliveries as well,” Loo said. “RSVP worked with Grace Meek to develop project guidelines to ensure the safety of all participants.”
Members of the steering committee include Meek, Debra Thompson and Leila Summers of the Kaua‘i Lions Club, Campbell, master gardener and NTBG nursery manager; Susan Stayton, Timmons, Fallbeck and Rudy Sina of the Kaua’i Master Gardeners, and Melody Lopez of Catholic Charities Hawai‘i Kaua‘i.
Plant nurturing team members include the Kaua‘i Master Gardeners. The delivery and outreach team was the Kaua‘i Lions Club. The recruitment and management team includes AEA and RSVP, and NTBG and the Kaua‘i Lions Club make up the plant care and kit assembly team.
Campbell said they are looking into the possibility of repeating this project on a larger scale in the spring. For more information or to express interest in receiving a kit, email SafeStarts2020@gmail.com.