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Aging Well: The Kupuna Food Security Coalition continues to feed thousands of hungry seniors

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Aging Well: The Kupuna Food Security Coalition continues to feed thousands of hungry seniors

Hawaii Meals on WHeels, Inc. part of 189 nonprofits receiving $5.2 million

Dozens of government and private groups are trying to make sure no kupuna go hungry. They're part of The Kupuna Food Security Coalition, which formed last March because of the pandemic.

This is 95-year-old Doris Ota and her daughter Amy Ota-Marcouiller. Doris receives a meal every day from The Kupuna Food Security Coalition. Ota-Marcouiller says that program is a godsend. She needs the help primarily because it would be exhausting to cook meals for her family and a different set of meals for her mother - but she also sees how there are many needy seniors in our community. "Food prices have gone up tremendously. Wherever the seniors can get help, that'd be a relief for the family."

The food comes from Lunalilo Home, one of 40 groups in The Kupuna Food Security Coalition. Lunalilo Home is one of the Coalition's biggest partners. It uses grant money to make over 6,000 meals a week for needy seniors. 

Lunalilo Home Dietary Manager Tammy Smith says, "The need for kupuna to get food is great. There's a lot of kupuna who need food. A lot live alone. They not cooking anymore. Some don't have enough income for food." Smith's small kitchen, with just three staff, churned out over 200,000 meals last year for the community. She says the need has not slowed down this year.

The Honolulu Elderly Affairs Division organized the coalition. The Hawai'i Public Health Institute helps facilitate the group. It says society may be opening up, but that doesn't change the number of hungry seniors in our community. Kupuna Program Manager Lindsey Ilagan notes, "Food security was an issue before COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, it exacerbated a lot of the issues already there."

"It's beyond COVID," agrees Smith. "The need is great, and we've seen it."

The Coalition is now focused on seniors' long term needs. It says it is shifting away from reacting to an emergency, and evolving into a proactive model; "an incubator for innovative food security models and establishing a community of practice among stakeholders," says Ilagan. 

What does that mean? For instance, "We're trying to make sure all the kupuna we reach in food distributions are linked out with long term support including SNAP - Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, connecting them to other health and social support," clarifies Ilagan. 

Tammy Smith has a much simpler distillation: "Who needs food, how do we get it to them, and how do we help them?"

For more about The Kupuna Food Security Coalition and a list of partner organizations, go to hiphi.org/kupuna. For more information, email kupunacoalition@hiphi.org.

To request food, go to: https://www.hiphi.org/kupuna/#kupunaatrisk and look under the section "KUPUNA FOOD AVAILABLE AND OTHER RESOURCES."