Two weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to journey across the island and volunteer at Pu'uhonua O Puna, aka the HUB, located right across Pahoa school. It is run entirely by volunteers and thrives off of donations from people like you and me. We headed out early in the morning, coffee and bagel sandwich in hand! Along side me, my best friend of more years than I can count on two hands, Christina "Tina" Henline of Sundot Marine (fishflags.com).
Growing up, my parents built a house in Orchidland when I was around 6 or 7, and we lived there until I graduated high school. On to college days, some of our favorite memories were spent in old Pahoa town, Kapoho, Green Lake, Pohoiki and more. The district of Puna is a huge part of my upbringing and it was and still is important to me to try and do what I can to assist the thousands of displaced people affected by this beautiful yet destructive lava flow.
Upon arrival the aroma of freshly cooked warm fried rice fills the air. The place is bustling with people of all ages, keiki running in and out of the tents chasing each other in laughter, volunteers carrying bags of goods to the different stations to be distributed...I even see the infamous Ikaika Marzo in deep conversation off to the side! I'm still kicking myself that I left without getting a photo with him!
Its really ingenious how they have everything set up in there. They have the place divided into sections. One area is for canned goods, dry saimin and other non perishable food items. Another area is for household products like shampoo, body wash, toothbrushes, etc. They've even got a pet area where you can grab some food for your cat or dog. The fresh, hot delicious food is located right in the middle. You can walk in, mention what you're looking for and get directed to that exact place. We were assigned to the clothing area towards the back end, and were so excited to get started.
Our area was already looking great, thanks to Olivia, a local resident who had already volunteered several days in a row! Everything was neatly organized into bins and plastic containers or laid out on folding tables. They have everything from infant boys and girls clothing all the way up to mens XXXL sizes! A lot of the items still have tags on them, brand new. All the casual t-shirts and shorts were folded on the tables, and you can find fancier shirts and dresses hanging on the racks. Our section also contained blankets, towels and household items like cups, silverware and napkins.
Truly the most amazing part of it all was the face to face interaction we got to have with some of the individuals that have faced such loss..and still manage to remain positive through it all. So many individual stories, that ranged from families now all living in a single room in a friend's home until finding a place of their own...to others who have lost their main source of income as their home based business has been consumed by the flow. The gratitude they all had for Puuhonu'a O Puna is immense. Some were nearly in tears, hugging me as they walked away with bags of towels and blankets to warm their family for the night. It brought me so much happiness to see the smiles on girls faces when helping them pick out a new dress that was just the right size, or finding a new pair of slippers for a lady who forgot her favorite pair during the evacuation process. During our time there, on several occasions volunteers would drop off bags full of new clothes and blankets to sort and fold in our area. The community is beyond generous, and people are constantly driving through bringing donations to be distributed and sorted. Some of the items I did notice that were being asked of that were running low on in our section were footwear like shoes, slippers, etc. and phone chargers!
Kalua pig and cabbage was on the menu for lunch, and we had the opportunity to help serve some up as well! Every afternoon at 1pm, everyone joins hands and gathers to pule and bless the food. Alongside the Kalua pig, there was delicious bread pudding and cake all brought to the hub via donation. There was also an array of bananas for the taking. They try to have vegetarian / vegan options as well when available! It was so heartwarming to hear the uncles and aunties laughing, everyone all smiles as they sat down to enjoy the meal.
I truly wish we could have stayed there all night long as well, but I had the twins to get home to, so unfortunately we had to head out around 5pm. As evening set in, you could begin to see the light glow of the flow as we ventured out. All I could think about was when I could make the time to get back there and do it again! Be expecting blog 2 of our next adventure soon!
Pu'uhonua O Puna has a facebook page where they post updates as to what items and donations they are in need of that day!
Also, here is a link to a Go Fund me page of Pu'uhonua O Puna where all donations go straight to assisting the displaced community.
And last but not least, for all of you who love to fish, fishing apparel and beach lifestyle, here is a link to Tina's website to check out!!