Caravan of Aid
By Sarah Hodges
Imagine asking a group of members at a wellness or fitness center what kinds of activities they want to participate in. Would you expect something like “a sunset cruise in Waikiki”? “Dinner together at Roy’s”?
In fact, when we asked OUR members that question at our very first Membership meeting in May this year, many of them said that they wanted to give back to the community, working in a soup kitchen or doing a beach cleanup. Not exactly a luxury experience! These are my kind of members!
So when we designed our October Members event, we honored our Members’ suggestion and dove deep into service: a Volunteer Caravan to Assist the Houseless across O’ahu.
Our brainstorming happened just after the devastating fires on Maui, and many of our Members wanted to help fire victims. O’ahu residents would have trouble all getting to Maui to assist those in need. So, with the organization of Still & Moving director Renée Tillotson and Blanch McMillan, founder of the tiny house village Hui Māhi’ai ‘Aina in Waimanalo, we agreed that our first Members’ service initiative would be aid to the houseless people on O’ahu.
On Friday evening, October 13th, before the following day’s caravan, a few Members, faculty, and Still & Moving staff came to Hui Māhi’ai ‘Aina as an ‘ohana (family) to help the residents prepare meals. We made huge quantities of tuna salad, egg salad and chicken salad for sandwiches, with fresh baby carrots, chips and cookies. The residents, not so long ago houseless themselves, poured their energy into making and packing almost 500 lunches for those on the street. A powerful symbol of hope.
The next day, a hot Saturday morning, Still & Moving Members, faculty, and staff first gathered at the studio to prepare little art kits for the houseless kids. We then drove our cars to join the caravan on Iwilei Street in Honolulu, everyone ready to help.
Shortly after we arrived, two large trucks and a big green passenger van from the tiny house village pulled up with a number of residents who were also volunteering for the day. We later moved on to River Street in Chinatown and the Boat Harbor in Waianae. At each location, residents of Hui Māhi’ai ‘Aina and Still & Moving volunteers stepped out in full force, ready to bring aid. We unloaded and arranged containers filled with lightly used clothing for adults and children, ziplocks of shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, etc, water bottles, as well as the brown bag lunches prepared the day before.
Like a pop-up shop magically appearing on a downtown side street, volunteers moved into action, lifting boxes out of the trucks, setting up tables, and laying out clothing to make it easier to find a nice item or two. Blanche McMillan stepped out in front of the gathering houseless people of that area, and began to speak. Her voice rang out strong and resonant, filled with love, and also honest in wanting people to change their ways if they had fallen into addiction or bad habits. She spoke out as a small crowd gathered around, “It doesn’t matter what you did in life or who you are, where you’re from, what kind of person you are – if you clean up your habits you have a home with me.” She spoke for a while with everyone hushed, listening to the words filled with the heart of this loving kupuna (elder). At the end of talking with them, she said, “I love you, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, I love you.”
Everyone waiting to receive food or supplies now formed a line at the first table to pick up their lunch bag, water, and sanitary supplies. With the help of Still & Moving attendees and Hui Māhi’ai ‘Aina’s residents, the folks living on the street searched through large cardboard boxes of clothing, selecting some items for themselves, their friends, or their family.
One man wanted only a single item of clothing: a belt to hold up the pants he had become too thin to wear otherwise. A woman in a wheelchair needed help reaching into the deep boxes of clothes. Her face lit up when I pulled out a gauzy top and an apricot-colored T-shirt to make a “matching set”. For that moment she had her own personal shopper experience, as if she were visiting a high-end boutique.
I watched another Still & Moving Member approach a woman riding her wheelchair through Chinatown with many bags packed onto it for safe-keeping, as one tends to do without a home. Her bright clothing showed quite a flare and love of life. When our Member offered the woman a decorative butterfly for her hair, she replied: “You just made my day!”
As a Still & Moving staffer, I feel so grateful to be surrounded by this spirit of support and giving, especially to be serving alongside people so recently homeless themselves. While not all Members could attend the Caravan event, the joy of coming together and giving to those in need radiated from every staff, bodyworker, faculty, and Member who volunteered.
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