Residents respond to shutdown with aloha

Food, other items donated to federal workers going without pay for nearly 30 days

Chef-owner Kyle Kawakami of Maui Fresh Streatery hands meals to brother-in-law Evan Watanabe in Wailuku on Wednesday. Watanabe delivered 15 hot meals at lunch to the U.S. Coast Guard base in Maalaea, which is impacted by the federal government shutdown. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photos

MAALAEA — Businesses, churches and community members around Maui are responding to the federal government shutdown with startups of goodwill.

“Can’t shut down aloha,” said Kyle Kawakami, Maui Fresh Streatery food truck chef-owner, who is helping lead a charge for meal donations.

Several groups and individuals like Kawakami have been coming forward amid the shutdown to give food and other essentials to federal workers who have been working without pay. Today is day 26 of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

On Wednesday, Kawakami of Kahului cooked 15 meals that his brother-in-law, retired U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Evan Watanabe of Wailuku, delivered at lunchtime to the U.S. Coast Guard base in Maalaea.

“The support we have had is amazing — we never expected this,” said a U.S. Coast Guard member upon receiving the meals. “Some of the newer guys don’t make much money. It’s hard for the junior members. Plus, we have some who have just had a baby.”

Retired Maui County Fire Capt. Rex Takushi points to frozen and fresh items purchased from Costco on Wednesday for donation to the U.S. Coast Guard service members in Maalaea who are impacted by the federal government shutdown.

The service member spoke on condition of anonymity because federal workers have been ordered not to do media interviews.

Coast Guard members cannot accept cash or gift cards, the military official said, but they can receive canned food, meals, baby food, pet food and other supplies.

Also Wednesday, retired Maui County Fire Capt. Rex Takushi of Haiku drove his SUV filled with frozen and canned foods from Costco to the Maalaea base. Takushi said he wanted to help because he feels a connection to Coast Guard members, since they often back up firefighters.

“The Coast Guard is there for the whole community, but also for rescue squads like firefighters,” he said. “It’s hard that these emergency workers already have financial and family responsibilities, and this (shutdown) creates a pressure they shouldn’t have to deal with.”

Tonight, Pukalani Community Church of the Nazarene will be cooking spaghetti with meat sauce to give to anyone impacted by the shutdown. Church members made chili and rice Tuesday and packed it for federal workers to pick up at their Upcountry facility. Workers can make appointments to pick up the meals by calling Lauren Dobashi at 280-4230 or Jon Alamillo at 357-4194. They can also direct message PukaNaz on Facebook.

The “Pay It Forward” board at Maui Fresh Streatery has generated nearly 200 meal donations for federal workers or others in need since it launched Friday.

“People are working hard and not getting their paycheck,” Pastor Mark Gudmunson said. “We want to let them know that we love them and appreciate them.”

Since Friday, Kawakami has been leading a social media effort to “Pay It Forward” with Maui Fresh Streatery meals that can be donated to federal workers, or anyone wanting a hot meal, he said. Customers can purchase a Post-it note that gets placed on the food truck’s board, and anyone in need of a free meal can pull off a note to redeem for a meal. The food truck is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at various Central Maui locations, which are posted on Maui Fresh Streatery’s website and social media accounts.

“With the shutdown, as a business owner, I became kind of disillusioned by what was going on on a federal level,” Kawakami said. “I didn’t want to go down that path. Instead of looking at a federal level, I said, ‘What can I do here in our community?’ I can’t make an impact in Washington or in the Senate, but I can make an impact in my own community.”

Already, close to 200 Pay It Forward meals have been purchased by people onsite, or via phone from as far away as Maine, Kawakami said. As of Wednesday evening, approximately 20 meals have been picked up at the food truck by federal workers, which included a handful of people who were “just down on their luck,” he said. Also, the chef made 30 meals Monday, and his cousin Shane Kawakami delivered them to federal workers at Kahului Airport where Shane works as a state security officer.

Not only can people donate by purchasing a Pay It Forward Post-it note meal at the food truck, but they can also help deliver meals to people in need. Kawakami, who has a strong social media following, said he has been posting online to find “Food Angels.”

Customers wait in line at the popular Maui Fresh Streatery in Wailuku on Wednesday.

“Local people are sometimes hesitant to ask for a handout,” he said. “So we are looking for ‘Food Angels’ to help us. The Post-its are neat and they look cool on the board, but they don’t do any good sitting here. I would rather them get pulled off and delivered.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at

For unpaid federal workers, families

Free meals:

Maui Fresh Streatery food truck, Central Maui. Open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For current hours and locations, visit Facebook, Instagram or Twitter from the Maui Fresh Streatery Website,

Free meals, other items:

Maalaea General Store. Owner Kristine Peterson has been helping U.S. Coast Guard members with meals. Contact her via the store, 242-8900, for toiletries, paper towels, diapers and nonperishables.

Free meals, toiletries and other items:

Pukalani Community Church of the Nazarene, Pukalani. Pick up by appointment. Call Lauren Dobashi at 280-4230 or Jon Alamillo at 357-4194, or direct message PukaNaz on Facebook.

Free meals:

Rock & Brews, Paia and nationwide. Choice of free pulled pork sandwich or strawberry fields salad; one meal per day. TSA ID required. For location and hours, visit rockandbrews .com/paia.

Free hour of jumping for kids on Friday:

Ultimate Air Maui Trampoline Park, Wailuku. Federal government workers with ID will get one free hour of jumping per child from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday. The trampoline park is partnering with Maui Fresh Streatery, which will be on-site Friday evening to offer free food to federal workers. For information on the park, visit