Hawai‘i People Show Kindness in the Time of Coronavirus

Many people are quietly reaching out; donating food, flowers, masks and even Easter lilies to those on the front lines of the pandemic in Honolulu.


Hospital staff sorting donated produce.

Queen’s Medical Center staff sorted more than 7,000 pounds of donated fruits and vegetables from Armstrong produce for its workers. Photo: Courtesy of the Queen’s Health Systems



The folks at The Queen’s Health Systems could stock a comfort-food restaurant with the donations they’ve received in recent weeks: pizza, pastries, pies, energy drinks, bento and enough produce to feed hundreds of people.


Jason Chang took over in December as president of The Queen’s Medical Center-Punchbowl and chief operating officer of The Queen’s Health Systems. He says he’s in awe of the stream of goodwill gifts. “Pizza Hut donated 80 pizzas, Ted’s Bakery donated 100 pies, Armstrong Produce donated 7,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables.”


The list of bakers and makers goes on: 250 bento from Marian’s Catering, burgers from Teddy’s Bigger Burgers, Murphy’s Bar & Grill’s owner/proprietor Don Murphy delivered food himself to the emergency department at least twice in the last month. And what’s even more touching to Chang is that no one asked for help for the helpers. “These are people and companies that recognize the hardships and the fear that they’re going through,” he says.


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Queen’s spokesman Sean Ibara says the donated produce was packed in bags for employees to take home. He says Armstrong delivered 7,147 pounds of food that included apples, oranges, avocado, lettuce, broccoli, lemons, limes, squash, radicchio, garlic and asparagus. Chang says the fresh produce is especially appreciated by people working long hours who don’t have time to shop.


And the donations go beyond food. “We had many people from the construction industry and the dental industry that use N95 masks call us and say we have masks for you. We think you need them more than we do so they’ve donated thousands of masks,” Chang says.


Still, he wasn’t sure what to expect when the large trucks rolled up filled with bundles of fresh-cut flowers that were split up into take-home bouquets. “Watanabe Floral donated thousands of flowers; it was amazing. They don’t know how it fits in but they know that flowers make people feel good,” Chang says. “We were able to pass those out to the frontline staff.”


Nurses holding pots of lilies.

Staff at Kapi‘olani Medical Center received lilies from Alluvion Nursery. Photo: Courtesy of Emily Naula



Alluvion Nursery in Hale‘iwa reached out with Easter lilies to Kapi‘olani Medical Center and Queen’s. The nursery had prepared 1,000 potted lilies for holiday sales, but with churches closed and supermarkets focused on providing food and other necessities, mother-son Alluvion owners Susan and Chad Matsushima saw the flowers weren’t going to reach the people who ordered them. “I didn’t want them to be just sitting on the bench, getting rotten,” Susan says.


The Matsushimas got to work to share the plants with people working on the frontlines. “I got on the phone and talked to people in the emergency room,” Susan says, then started the deliveries once they got the OK. They arranged delivery of 350 of the Easter lilies to health care workers as a thank you for their dedication and commitment to their patients and their profession. They even produced a special message tag: “Stay Strong First Responders, Much Mahalo.”


Susan says she was touched to receive the photos of the workers receiving the lilies. Since she’s in her 70s, her son had benched her for the delivery. She was especially moved when a woman working at Queen’s West called her to say, “You don’t know me, I work in the ER, but you just made us all so happy.”


Man delivering boxes of pastries.

Scott Tanaka hands off 70 boxes of pastries from Kamehameha Bakery to Ibara. Photo: Courtesy of the Queen’s Health Systems



Many gifts have come from just regular people who want to show their support. Scott Tanaka, the father of a Queen’s employee, Joey Tanaka, decided to do something for staff members. While most people would have picked up a couple of boxes of doughnuts, Tanaka bought and delivered 70 boxes of pastries from Kamehameha Bakery. Ibara helped unload dozens of pastries at the Punchbowl hospital campus including “poi malassadas, guava malassadas, twist donuts, bread pudding, corn bread, apple turnovers, and lots more.”


Tanaka had stopped by the bakery to pick up some poi malassadas and noticed the shelves were full but the popular bakery was deserted. “Usually when I go it’s like packed inside there,” he says. And that’s when he got an idea that could support both the hospital workers and the bakery. He checked with his daughter—who started working in typology there about six months ago—about the best way to make the dropoff.  Then he called the bakery, adding box after box to the order: “I just wanted to get as much as I could because the hospital is so big,” Tanaka says. “I just figured like a thousand dollars’ worth of doughnuts.”


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As the owner of ‘Aiea Collision, Tanaka feels fortunate that so far he’s been able to keep his auto body repair shop open. He figures he’s among many people trying to help out: “I watch the news every day and it’s hard. I just do what I can when I can.”


And the outreach goes well beyond the largest medical facilities. As a nurse practitioner who works on the community front lines at a community walk-in clinic that provides care to under-served populations on O‘ahu, Becky Yoza says so far the staff has enough personal protective equipment to cover those in direct contact with patients who still come in to urgent care. And, after seeing hard-hit communities running short of gear in other states, Yoza is thankful that her friends from Harris United Methodist Church volunteered to help sew colorful cloth masks for her and her colleagues. Now they have handmade masks to use when they need them, at home and out in the community.


Nurse practitioner holding homemade masks.

Becky Yoza with masks donated by Harris United Methodist Church. Photo: Courtesy of Gregory Yamamoto



“I gave masks to my coworkers,” Yoza says. “I also gave some masks to a physician friend who works in a local ER and he was going to distribute among the staff; he was so thankful and appreciative.”


Back at Queen’s, Chang says the unsolicited outpouring from the community—from the smallest donation to the massive ones—makes a big difference. “People are doing good things out there,” he said. “It makes you realize that people are thinking about you. They know you’re there waiting when they need you.”