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Lessons to lunches — UH Maui College transforms kitchens into food relief centers

KAHULUI, Hawai‘i — With thousands displaced across West Maui following the fire last week that killed at least 110 people and damaged thousands of homes, the University of Hawai‘i Maui College has transformed its kitchens into food preparation centers, providing thousands of meals for those impacted by the blaze.

“What drives us is our commitment to serving our community,” said Jocelyn Romero Demirbag, Maui Nui director of development for the UH Foundation.

The college’s food prep effort began shortly after the blaze, as Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen requested the college assist with the county’s efforts by providing refrigerator space and pre-prepared meals “for a few days,” Demirbag explained.

However, the project quickly ballooned, as culinary instructors and students teamed up alongside The Chef Hui, The Salvation Army, Maui United Way, Maui Rapid Response, Maui County and Common Ground Collective.

Led by chefs Sheldon Simeon, a UH Maui College alumnus and award-winning chef, and Lee Anne Wong, celebrity chef and owner of Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu, the team uses as much local meat and produce as possible to prepare beef stew and curries for shelters and first responders.

The kitchen’s size and scope can be easily seen in its output — on Aug. 10, the team prepared 4,000 meals. The next day, they were up to 6,000. And as volunteers and community members continue to show up for those affected, the project’s growth has shown no signs of stopping.

“They put out 9,000 meals on Sunday,” Demirbag said. “We have even received donations of pigs and cows from other islands.”

With efforts in full swing, UH Maui College has no plans to stop these efforts after “a few days,” as originally requested.

Lui Hokoana, the college’s chancellor, expects food prep services to continue throughout the semester, set to end Dec. 15.

Continuing this work isn’t expected to come cheap, though.

“One early estimate is that this effort might cost $750,000 per month,” Demirbag said.

Still, the college’s leadership has made it clear that upholding their kuleana to the community is worth every penny.

“Serving our community has always been and always will be in the DNA of UH Maui College,” Hokoana said.

“That is never truer than in times of tragedy and dire need, which our island is certainly experiencing right now. It’s incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to ease the pain.”


Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or
Source: The Garden Island

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