“We know that food has a healing effect, and to be able to provide people with a hot meal, and even better, something that connects them to Hawaii instead of just canned food,” said Sheldon Simeon, who acts as kitchen representative Hawaiian, in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP). Simeon shared his wish that this action marks the start of a recovery process.
Lahaina, a popular and historic seaside town on Maui’s west coast, was engulfed by a raging fire last week, leaving more than 90 people dead, thousands evacuated, and hundreds missing. Despite having explored only 3% of the burned area, the authorities expect the number of fatalities to continue to rise, while hundreds of survivors find themselves in difficult conditions without access to resources, electricity, or means of communication.
Faced with growing criticism and frustration over the official response, which many consider slow, donations and various community initiatives are springing up to confront the tragedy. To provide support to those in need and those who remain in precarious conditions in Lahaina, personalities such as Simeon and renowned culinary chef Lee Anne Wong, whose restaurant was consumed by fire, as well as prominent figures in local cuisine, such as Chef Taylor Ponte, are collaborating in shifts at the facilities of the University of Hawaii School of Gastronomy with the support of numerous volunteers.
The team is dedicated to the preparation and packaging of around 9,000 servings of food daily. Ponte shared his impression of the large amount of food donated by the community and underscored the importance of the ongoing work.
Menus are tailored based on available ingredients but always incorporate a local twist. In the kitchen, the activity is intense, and the food portions quickly disappear into the hands of volunteers who distribute them in shelters and in Lahaina.
Despite exhaustion from long work hours, Ponte emphasized that the chefs are dedicated to supporting those who are exhausted, hungry, and homeless, underscoring the importance of their work in these challenging circumstances.