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A simple job to do

It is not exciting work. Every Tuesday, Kihei retiree Tony Pompillio makes the drive to Central Maui, parks his car at the Maui Food Bank, and spends the next two hours putting cans in bags.

His job: fill each bag with exactly 10 pounds of canned protein. It’s a simple job, but he puts thought into it, making sure to mix and match whatever’s available – SPAM, tuna, corned beef – so that the soup kitchens and feeding programs that receive his bags get some variety to provide their clients. He works quietly, usually alone. When he’s done, he’ll run a few errands in town, and then go home.

“It’s not a difficult job, it’s just repetition,” he says. “And it feels good to give back a little bit to the community.”

Pompillio didn’t always fill his bags alone. The self-described “couch potato” was contentedly spending his Maui retirement catching up with all the reading he’d missed during a fast-paced banking career when his wife suggested he join her on the job.

A dedicated volunteer, Doris Pompillio had previously given her time to the Maui Humane Society, and decided to try helping out at the Maui Food Bank.

“She came home and said, ‘Why don’t you come and work with me? You might like it,” he recalls. “I did, and I’ve been there ever since.”

The couple first tried stocking shelves, but all the bending down and reaching up bothered his back, so they were put on the protein station instead, freeing up a Maui Food Bank employee to handle more demanding work.

“It was a job nobody seemed to like, but we liked it because we could be off by ourselves and get the work done, and talk,” he says.

And he felt good about the job he was doing, believing in the food bank’s mission.

“It’s bad enough when adults go hungry,” Pompillio says. “But children don’t understand it, and I hate to see kids without enough food to eat.”

He’s fuzzy on the exact date, but thinks they started around eight years ago. The couple had moved to Maui in 2001 from New York. (“I never met so many people who told me I had a New York accent until I moved here,” he says. “It came as a shock, because I didn’t think it was that bad.”)

For the next few years, the Pompillios faithfully showed up every week for their volunteer time at the food bank. But after years of struggling with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Doris died of the lung ailment three years ago.

Even though volunteering had originally been his wife’s idea, Pompillio says he never even considered quitting the job.

“I know she liked it there,” he says. “Sometimes you’re married, and you tend to argue now and then, especially when you’re home together all day, but we never argued there. It was a good place for us. We worked well together.”

Even though the job just takes a few hours out of his week, Pompillio says it feels good to help others.

“Most people consider it boring, but I like it,” he says. “I don’t have to strain my brain, and I know I’m doing something good for the community. It’s not taking something away from my life to do this, and I enjoy it.”

And he’s recruited help. When friends and family come to visit on their vacation, he usually takes them to the food bank so they can volunteer together.

“They like it,” he says. “We make a day out of it, and then we go out and have lunch, or go to the store, so it’s like a day out. You don’t always have to go to the beach as a visitor.”

* Ilima Loomis is a Maui-based writer and editor. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at neighbors.maui@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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