LIHU‘E — The many cars filling one side of the Vidinha Stadium parking lot were moving at a steady pace Tuesday, when a Kaua‘i Lifeguard Association board member looked up from his package preparation at the Mahalo Kaua‘i! Merry Christmas Food Distribution.
“I was wondering if we would be able to get all of this food distributed,” the board member said while readying the combination of saimin, bread, and eggs. “But I guess we’ll have no problem. From the looks of what has been going through, a lot of the drivers are kupuna, and that’s whom we wanted to get the food.”
He continued by noting the demand for food will only increase, the longer the island has to deal with all the unemployment, hotel and business closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The KLA, a stalwart support group for Kaua‘i lifeguards and proactive ocean safety, teamed with the Kaua‘i lifeguards, the Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank, the Safeway store at Hokulei Village, and the Rancher’s Daughter’s Reserve to distribute more than 450 food and holiday packages to people who started waiting their turn before the 9 a.m. hour.
“Kelvin Moniz, the Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank executive director, learned a new word — partnership,” said Rowena Cobb, a former KIFB board president who stopped by to watch the proceedings. “It’s not ‘sponsor.’ We’re partners. We have the same mission of rescuing people.”
Chantal Zarbaugh of the KLA is no stranger to food distributions after volunteering at a number of events as well as hosting four Kaua‘i Government Employees Federal Credit Union distributions. These experiences honed her motivation of having the event work with local “partners” like the Andrade family Rancher’s Daughter’s Reserve who provided convenient packs of frozen hamburger that made up part of the food package.
“Charlene Andrade Balmores is real good about doing this,” Chantal said. “She even goes the extra step in packaging the hamburger in one-pound packs so it’s easy to work with. We need to support local.”
Kalani Vierra of the Kaua‘i Ocean Safety Bureau operating under the Kaua‘i Fire Department, said being an ocean safety officer is more than just being a lifeguard on a beach.
“Ocean Safety Bureau, with the support of KLA, has done more in our community than just at the beach,” Vierra ssaid. “I am proud to say that we get to end this year — right before Christmas — doing a food distribution for those in need by partnering with Safeway Lihu‘e, KIFB, and Rancher’s Daughter’s Reserve.”
Vierra said he and the lifeguards are grateful to all those who gave a bag of rice as a donation to KLA at the Safeway Rice Drive.
“This drive came out to be 3,000 pounds of rice,” he said. “This is the first time I’m doing this, and I was impressed by all of the support.”
“Getting the lifeguards to go above and beyond can be done only if I am willing to do so myself,” Vierra said. “We do our jobs because it’s about ownership, protecting others, pride with humility, and taking care of our home — our community. It’s like the tower is our house, and the beach and ocean are our property. We need to care for it.”
Among those volunteering at the distribution, young entrepreneurs Zaylee Doi-Desmarais and Chloe Ayonon of Beat Athletica joined Chloe Ayonon’s grandmother, Cyndi Ayonon of the Zonta Club of Kaua‘i.
“This is up their alley,” Cyndi said. “I told them to wear holiday clothes, and all they did was wear black and white.”
“The ocean is also a spiritual and cultural place — the ocean saved my life when I was at a very low part in my life,” Vierra said. “It gave me a purpose for living and a sense of being there for myself and my loved ones. The ocean is my church, my gym, and my heritage that keeps me stay grounded and reminds me every day why I’m blessed. The ocean has healing power. It can take away your pain, your suffering, your depression — especially in times of uncertainty — all you have to do is get into the water and feel its power.”
Vierra said the ocean can be a very dangerous place and can take a life in the blink of an eye, if a swimmer is reckless.
“Our job, our mission is to keep everyone safe,” he said. “Prevention is part of what we do too, because we know the water conditions and try to avoid getting into an unnecessary situation that has potential for disaster. We take our job seriously, even when not sitting in a tower.”
Vierra noted that when the pandemic hit Kaua‘i, there were still a lot of things lifeguards and Ocean Safety Bureau could do besides keeping watch at lifeguarded beaches and the roving units, hosting training for “not just surf instructors,” but inviting hotels and surf lesson businesses so they could learn what to do if anything happened with their guests and a lifeguard was not around. Ocean Safety Bureau went to teach keiki ocean safety skills in classrooms on career days.
“When the COVID-19 hit our shores, we had to pivot,” Vierra said. “We did things and events that helped our community in COVID-19 relevant ways like doing a face mask distribution for the homeless at four of the beach parks across the island. Lifeguards took food and clothing to the homeless, volunteered at Operation Christmas Child, distributed Community Supported Agricuture food boxes to the community, did beach clean ups, helped with a donation drive and contribution to the Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity, and more.”
“I am proud of my team (there is one female lifeguard — Sanoe Ho‘okano) for the amount of heart they put into what they do for others,” Vierra said. “Making that conscious choice to put someone else’s life before their own takes a brave person — they are heroes in my eyes! We all have choices in life, my lifeguards chose a career to put someone else’s life before their own; choices defines us, builds character, and what the lifeguards to for the community goes above and beyond the call of duty.”
Moniz said the Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank will host one final emergency food pick up, Dec. 29 from 9 to 11 a.m. at its Nawiliwili facility — to get people by between Christmas and the New Year.
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.