CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Netta Johnson, in wheelchair, visited yesterday with Meals on Wheels volunteer Ellen Manuel. Manuel and her husband, Mac, delivered meals and a gingerbread house to Johnson at a Punahou Street address.
Volunteers, dollars deliver dinner
Volunteers cited the "feel-good atmosphere" of helping out with the Lanakila Meals on Wheels program during Christmas, but the program itself was a recipient of feel-good help.
Earlier in the year, the island's largest meals-on-wheels program announced a budget shortfall of about $350,000. Without that money, about 200 senior citizens would have been cut out of the program.
As of yesterday the nonprofit group's chief executive officer said that shortfall had shrunk to mere hundreds of dollars, thanks to an outpouring of support from the private and public sectors.
"Hawaii people have hearts of gold," said Marian Tsuji, also the group's president. "It's good to know we don't need to keep doing the fundraising and we can focus more on some of the long-term funding issues and really develop a plan."
The program prepares up to 1,800 meals a day and serves about a half-million meals throughout the year. The group also hopes to finance itself at least partially through its catering services.
"As the boomers are aging out, we know that the need is going to increase," Tsuji said.
The initial shortfall was caused by increased expenses, particularly gas. Volunteers sometimes stop because of rising gas costs, and that means Tsuji must use staff to deliver the meals.
"It also means food prices are increasing, the packaging materials that we use, everything," Tsuji said.
Yesterday the 69-year-old agency delivered hot meals to about 800 senior residents, including 93-year-old Mildred Sakagawa, who lives near Fort Shafter.
"I'm thankful, and it's such a wonderful thing for them to be here," Sakagawa said.
Karen Fong and her husband, Larry Foster, have been delivering meals on Christmas and Thanksgiving since they moved to Hawaii from Washington, D.C., in 2001.
"We do it because it gives the people who normally do it a break so they can be home with their families for Christmas," Fong said. "It also gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling."
The couple was among 275 volunteers who delivered meals across the island from Waianae to the North Shore. About 90 volunteers belonged to the Rising Phoenix Jaycees, a leadership development group of young professionals. Chapter President Sterling Seito said its members ask to volunteer every year because of how fulfilling it feels.
"Just this past Thanksgiving, I delivered food to this elderly lady who doesn't have the family down here," Seito said. "She was crying, hugging us and telling us how great it was. We spent about five minutes talking with her. This is just a touching project for us."