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Program Brings Local Food to Kupuna

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

Photos courtesy of Niles James.

A new program allows community members to purchase fresh, locally grown food boxes and donate them for delivery to local kupuna in need. The Kupuna ʻAi Box program, launched by Sust’ainable Molokai in collaboration with the Molokai Rural Health Community Association, will provide kupuna who sign up with a weekly assortment of Molokai-produced food items such as kalo, ʻulu, poi, frozen beef, ʻuala, eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables. The boxes are available for purchase for $25 each through Sust’ainable Molokai’s weekly Mobile Market, an online marketplace that connects local farmers with Molokai consumers, and facilitates the sales, packaging and quality of locally grown produce. The boxes will be delivered at no cost to kupuna.

“We hope to inspire others who have the resources and opportunities to help us feed our kupuna to consider gifting to this weekly program with us,” the box’s description on the Mobile Market’s website reads. 

The program has just launched, and boxes are currently available to purchase for donation. Delivery will begin starting next month. In the past two weeks, 30 boxes have already been sold, said Sust’ainable Molokai’s Food Hub Manager, Niles James. 

“The reason we’re doing this Kupuna ‘Ai box is to bring the community together again and remember the number one thing: to take care of the kupuna,” said James. “We want to revitalize… so they don’t fall through the cracks as we get back into our daily routines [after COVID].”

For now, the program is targeting 15 to 20 boxes for delivery weekly to kupuna who are already served through the Molokai Rural Health Community Association (MRHCA) kupuna program, according to Kuulei Arce, MRHCA program coordinator. Arce said her program serves full time Molokai residents ages 65 and older with services such as haircuts, lomilomi, doctor visits, lawn care, house cleaning and educational opportunities. The food boxes will be delivered, or can be picked up at a Mobile Market pick up locations, on a first come, first served rotating basis to those kupuna who sign up to participate. 

“We’ve been really wanting to do a program like this for a couple years now… coming out of COVID, how can we best support kupuna and our community?” said Jamie Ronzello, Sust’ainable Molokai Food Sovereignty Program Director. “We know the [Mobile Market] online platform isn’t always the most user friendly for those who aren’t tech savvy.”

The Kupuna ‘Ai boxes will increase accessibility for kupuna and ensure those in need have fresh, Molokai-grown seasonal produce and foundational meal items for hassle-free cooking. 

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to give back to kupuna in the community with nutritious, local food,” said Ronzello. 

James said he’s been talking to lots of community members and kupuna about what’s best to include in the boxes, and added he’s always open to more feedback as the program moves forward. The boxes will focus on variety of products, small quantities and ease of ingredient preparation, he said. 

James, who recently joined the Sust’ainable Molokai team as Food Hub Manager, has a background in successful farming on both Maui and Molokai and is excited to foster the connections between farmers and community members. 

The delivery launch of the Kupuna ‘Ai boxes will happen in mid-March, corresponding to a pop-up market event James is planning with the goal of building greater understanding and appreciation for where our food comes from and those who work to produce it.

“We want to create this personal relationship,” he said. “We want that connection to come back… ‘I see you, I know what you grow.’ [Food is] something that you consume multiple times a day but [many people] have a complete disconnect from it.” 

More than 30 farmers and backyard growers participate in the Mobile Market, often filling around 100 community orders weekly. 

James said the pop-up event in March would partner with Malama Market, a monthly event already organized in Kaunakakai, to serve as a pick up location for Mobile Market customers in which farmers would set up tables and residents could pick up their ordered items directly from the producers in a face-to-face market-style environment.  Stay tuned for more details on this event. 

In the meantime, residents can purchase a kupuna box through the Mobile Market to donate as the first delivery date approaches. 

“We’re really trying to streamline farmer to consumer,” said James. “[Kupuna ‘Ai program] enables us to directly take care of the kupuna and be able to reach them.”

Visit molokaimobilemarket.com to place your order or email niles@sustainablemolokai.org for more information. 


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