All it took was one selfless woman at the beginning of the pandemic, Rowena Pangan, to spearhead and get the ball rolling for a community meal delivery program that runs every Saturday for the houseless communities island-wide with 12 to 15 committed volunteers.
“I love it,” Pangan, co-founder and co-CEO of Ho‘omana Thrift Store in Wailua, said. “Growing up, we were really poor, and I know what it is like not to have. Before running Ho‘omana, I worked with the judiciary system, so when inmates come out of jail, I have a one-on-one with them. I retouch base with them, and that’s where I found out where most of the campsites are.”
Besides working every day at the thrift store until 11 p.m., and helping to feed the houseless communities weekly, Pangan does home health care and takes care of the kupuna, which is why she was nominated as The Garden Island’s Hometown Hero.
When COVID-19 first broke out, Pangan and her team started the Malama meals, which were being delivered from Honolulu.
“We had two hours to distribute 1,600 meals island-wide, and I started with Kamealoha Smith, former candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees,” Pangan said. “With other drivers, from Hanalei to Kekaha, we had 15-20 drivers, depending on the days from Monday through Sunday.”
During the pandemic, Pangan teamed up with Smith and Regina Floyd, a Ho‘omana Thrift Store’s marketing consultant, in hopes to find a way to keep the meal program going.
“I talk to Kamealoha and Regina, and we all put our thoughts together and wrote a small grant proposal to the county and was awarded $125,000 of CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding,” Pangan said. “Now we are serving on Saturdays and we will be serving on Thanksgiving and all Saturdays until the end of the year.”
Floyd pointed out what Pangan did at the beginning of their journey together.
“When we first started, what she started doing was taking the DOE (Department of Education) meals down to the keiki living in the campgrounds,” Floyd said. “The kids were being fed breakfast and lunch but there was nothing for the adults. And she got to see what was happening, what food was or was not coming and learning about all of the other campgrounds.”
Floyd explained how she got involved with Pangan.
“I am supporting her because I got involved with Ho‘omana, the thrift store to start out with and then I became friends with Ro, while helping with marketing the store,” Floyd said. “I really saw the mission and the vision of what she was trying to do, and not only just in the thrift store, it’s more than just the thrift store but I saw what she was doing outside of the community.”
Farah Aquino, a co-owner of Passion Bakery Café, piggybacked off Floyd’s thoughts and shared how she and her bakery got involved.
“Regina had posted that they were looking for somebody to partner up with to donate meals for the Kamalani Kai Bridge homeless camp,” Aquino said. “It was the beginning of COVID, tourism shut down, and we had all this meat in our freezers. We had given our staff a whole bunch of stuff, yet we still had a lot of product as we shut down for two weeks.
“We just did it cause we had the stuff and we had the PPE (personal protective equipment) and the labor hours, so we donated it. We had 1600 plates one time at this bakery…that was crazy but was good. We kind of had the same heart in the mission but in different ways,” Aquino said.
Aquino said she was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and through the help from people like Pangan, she turned her life around and now finds herself helping others like herself to pay it forward too.
“Today, miraculously, I have a work line from the jail and a work line from the drug court, and now it’s an all female group. Every Saturday they volunteer, together we five volunteers weekly.”
Since the grant will end on Dec. 31, they are hoping for someone from the community to help them fund their delivery meals program, Pangan said.
“We are praying the Lord will bless us with more funding so we can continue to bless the people because with the tough economic times, Kamalani Kai is growing, every,” Pangan said. “Every week it keeps growing and growing, there is more need for food.”
Aquino said it’s important to remember that everybody is human.
“I think in this time in this day of age, people need to have more compassion and try to put themselves in other people’s shoes,” Aquino said. “I see the chatter going back and forth on Kauai Rave and Rants on Facebook, about the homeless camps. It is really sad. That’s somebody’s aunty, somebody’s uncle, somebody’s child, there is a human face on these people.”
“A lot of mental illness, a lot of substance abuse, and this is Hawaii, yeah and it’s very expensive to live here and there is a housing crisis, and we got a lot of factors at play and people just need to have more compassion and more love in their hearts,” Aquino added.
Floyd added to Aquino’s message.
“And collaborate, be willing to work together, it’s not our organization against yours,” Floyd said. “It’s working together to do more. I mean here is a bakery and thrift store coming together to feed the houseless on a regular basis.”
Pangan agreed with Floyd and said she is looking at 550 people in need and she is going all the way to the Westside.
“The Kaleohano family from Ni‘ihau hanai me, so I have personal relationships with Ni‘ihau people and there is a whole lot there, probably another 300 people more,” Pangan said.
With all of that giving, Pangan still finds time to fix the Ho‘omana Thrift Store.
“We got flooded in March with the floods, so we are trying to get reestablished again, so people can start bringing in their donations-not only food is needed-people are looking for towels and blankets as the weather changes,’ Pangan said.
To make a donation or volunteer, contact Rowena Pangan at 808-346-6561, Regina Floyd at 702-292-2372, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.