One of the bright spots in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a new sense of community building between neighbors who haven’t met before.
Waimea residents Sydney Limtiaco, 79, and the Honda family are coronavirus friends.
They might have never met except for the pandemic. But now the Hondas are Limtiaco’s lifeline for food and medications.
The story of how they got together is one of service filling need.
“For many years I suffered from chronic pneumonia, so my lungs are weak, and I use an inhaler,” says Limtiaco, a widow who lives alone without a car.
Before the pandemic, Limtiaco would rely upon county transportation services for errands. But when COVID-19 reared its ugly head, Limtiaco knew she had to stay home, and even now as the state opens up Limtiaco isn’t leaving her house because of her high-risk status.
Enter the Hondas and Our Kupuna, a statewide volunteer nonprofit that started up a few days after Gov. David Ige’s stay-at-home order went into effect.
“We wanted a family project to do together, something that would be helpful to someone else in our community during this time,” says Kim Honda, a teacher at Hawaii Preparatory Academy, who read about Our Kupuna in a local newsletter.
She, her husband, Dean, and 17-year-old daughter Malia, a senior at HPA, fit the requirement of having a valid driver’s license, so they registered to become volunteers. And while 15-year-old son Jakob doesn’t yet have a driver’s license, he wanted to be involved with errands. Within three days of signing up, Our Kupuna matched the Hondas with Limtiaco.
Kim Honda sends a weekly text to Limtiaco, asking whether she needs any groceries or medications for pickup and delivery. The kupuna pay the volunteer sponsor for the cost of groceries, medicine or services.
“I will text Sydney the amount I’ve spent after we’ve gone grocery shopping and she will put a check in an envelope outside the door, where we leave the bags,” Kim says.
The service involves more than just delivery.
The weekly check-ins give homebound kupuna a chance to have social interaction, so they know they are not alone. And it’s not limited to just food or meds. Jakob and Dean recently took Sydney’s dog out for grooming.
Despite the physical distancing — contact is by phone or texting, with an occasional wave on either side of the front door — the Honda family and Limtiaco formed a special connection.
“They brought me flowers on Mother’s Day,” says Limtiaco. “Since I lost my daughter 12 years ago, that meant a lot.”
To show the Hondas her appreciation, Limtiaco made them a pot of soup and a lemon meringue pie to take home.
“The Hondas are wonderful angels to me.”
Since its inception, Our Kupuna has made more than 220 matches throughout the state, including 30 on the Big Island, spread evenly between East and West Hawaii.
As restrictions are lifted, Our Kupuna says the need for volunteers is growing, particularly in hard-to-reach rural areas around the Big Island. The nonprofit receives up to10 queries a week from kupuna, often referred by other agencies.
The nonprofit also works with food distribution programs to allow sponsors to pick up and deliver food boxes.
“As this (lockdown) continues, I think more kupuna are scared of going out until there’s a vaccine,” notes Big Island coordinator Mia Dorr. “For now, (kupuna) are so appreciative to know someone cares about them. The pandemic has built a whole new community of extended ohana.”
“Disrupt Aging” is a column produced by AARP Hawaii. Roberta Wong Murray is an AARP volunteer seeking stories about people who are redefining their age. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 322-6886.
• To volunteer or get help from Our Kupuna, visit ourkupuna.com or call 800-400-4506.