Chefs volunteer to cook thousands of meals for Maui fire victims
How chefs are feeding displaced victims on Maui in the wake of their own loss.
Without taking a beat, the culinary world sprang into action to help survivors on Maui in the wake of the deadly wildfires that tore through the historic harbor town of Old Lahaina, and with it, lives, businesses and homes.
As restaurant owners, chefs, food truck operators, suppliers, farmers and others asses the damage from the fifth-deadliest wildland fire in U.S. history that displaced thousands, they have quickly tapped into what comes as second nature in hospitality: serving others.
Culinary community on Maui mobilizes to help feed fire victims
World-renowned Japanese-American chef and restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi has been working with the Kokua Restaurant and Hospitality Fund, which is helping people who work in the hospitality and tourism industry recover from the wildfires.
"We want to give back to the people who give so much. Chefs are resilient -- hospitality workers are always ready to help," he said. "80% of Maui's economy is dependent on the visitor industry so we need to give back and support the workers that are in our industry. One way to give back is to, for the recovery, to give back to the Kokua Restaurant and Hospitality Fund.
Local food nonprofits, culinary programs and restauranteurs have pooled their resources to prepare food continuously and distribute meals to those in need.
"As a chef, the first thing I wanted to do is like, 'how can I help?' I can cook," local celebrity chef and restaurant owner Sheldon Simeon told "GMA." "This is a grassroots community effort to feed people that need to be fed -- It's a group of chefs and just community people making food, giving from their hearts and feeding our community."
Chef Hui, a Hawaii-based grassroots organization of local cooks and food service providers throughout the islands, set up a food and meal distribution hub at the University of Hawaii Maui College (UHMC) Culinary Arts facility in Kahului with volunteers from World Central Kitchen, Common Ground Collective and local chefs, some of whom lost their own restaurants in the wildfires.
The Chef Hui Maui Hospitality Relief Fund will "directly aid restaurant and hospitality workers and their families," the organization shared. People can donate through the website here.
The combination of local chefs, volunteers and culinary students have been chopping, cooking and shipping out as many as 10,000 meals per day at the Maui College campus.
UHMC chancellor Lui Hokoana, told "GMA" on Thursday that first and foremost he opened this kitchen to help with food relief efforts "because it's the right thing to do."
"When you live on an island with limited resources, we've all got to collaborate so that we can get something big done," he said, adding that they want to preserve the beauty of Maui "for our families right now and for future generations."
Celebrity chef Lee Anne Wong, who moved to the island in 2019 to open Papa'aina at the Pioneer Inn, was among those to announce last Wednesday the tragic news that she lost her restaurant to the flames, and has already been cooking and leading teams in the UHMC kitchen.
"I didn't really have time to stop and take a beat," she told "GMA" on Thursday. "Our community mobilized right away. I'm here as a spokesperson for Chef Hui -- founded by Amanda and Mark Noguchi -- we do community outreach, education and connecting through food and our relationship with 'Āina -- the land and the ocean."
"Heartbroken. There are no words for the devastating loss and tragedy that is unfolding on Maui," she wrote alongside before and after photos on Instagram. "Historic Lahaina has been my place of business for the past three years and the Pioneer Inn became my second home on Maui ... My culinary community, my friends, my people, I know you all want to help and there is already movement and response from several organizations, as soon as I find out more will share."
As Wong has mobilized efforts at the UHMC culinary facility she has shared numerous updates on social media to help spread the word on what's needed, from containers and supplies to volunteers, and other helpful information for those on the island.
One volunteer, Jose Antonio Rodriguez Gomez, told "GMA" that his mother's condominium building as well as her 28-year-old business burned down.
"This is a second home to me where I know that if I come here, I'm going to be surrounded by people who care," the UH alumni said of being on Maui.
Community members helping on the ground get meals together have ensured that any locally sourced ingredients and produce are put to good use.
"The farmers lost their market -- many of them are donating products, but they also need to have some revenue to keep their operations ongoing," Warren Watanabe, executive director of the Maui County Farm Bureau, told "GMA."
Havens, a local restaurant with two locations on Maui, has provided 500 meals a day for survivors and relief workers.
"Some staff, some family members, and some random volunteers, they just see what we’re doing on social media and just come up and want to help. Our community is as strong as it gets," Havens chef Zach Sato said.
Alongside fellow "Top Chef" alum and owner of Tiffany's Maui and Tin Roof Maui, Wong and Simeon have also shared glimpses inside the culinary facility as they've prepared large-format meals and shared updates for other chefs and vendors to get involved.
"I know all of our friends and ohana on the other islands want to see how they can help," Wong said in the video. She reminded followers they do not want new visitors to come to Maui in an effort "to save all of our available space and housing for those who have been displaced," but did ask "chefs, farmers, vendors" to help from afar.
"Go ahead and make food over there on your islands in your kitchens, freeze 'em and ship 'em right here to the college," she said. "We are looking for hearty, nutritious [foods] like stews. Things that we can heat and serve."
She also requested supplies from businesses and restaurants "on this side of the island" when they ran out of food containers and hot cups at Maui College, reminding those who could drop off or donate materials that "anything counts."
Chef Robynne Maii, a Honolulu native and owner of Fête Restaurant, encouraged diners to come for "lunch, snacks or dinner" on Wednesday, Aug. 16, to donate 100% of the entire sales that day to the staff at Wong's former Lahaina eatery.
"Our hearts are heavy with the destruction on Maui... Like so many in Lahaina, our good friend, Chef @leeannewong lost her restaurant @papaainamaui. Her staff lost not only their jobs, but most lost their homes," she wrote on the restaurant's Instagram. "This Wednesday, the 16th, we will be donating 100% of our entire sales of the day to the staff @papaainamaui."
Food companies supporting Maui fire relief efforts
SPAM and Hormel Foods announced Thursday a partnership with the nonprofit Convoy of Hope and local Hawaii retailers to provide three truckloads of product, currently en route, with more on the way to deliver much-needed resources to those in need. The combined cash and product donation value has hit $1,000,000, the company said, to directly help those impacted by the wildfires.
Additionally, SPAM created a specially designed "SPAM Brand Loves Maui" t-shirt of which 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Aloha United Way’s Maui Fire Relief Fund.
Kauai-based premium craft rum distiller Koloa Rum Company, known as "The Spirit of Aloha," is helping its neighboring island with a benefit event on Saturday, August 26 to support those impacted by the devastating wildfires by donating 100% of sales from their Company Store to Maui Strong Fund, organized by the Hawaii Community Foundation. The one-day event will also be hosted online for people to make impactful purchases on website orders.
"Our entire ohana at Kōloa Rum is saddened by the news of the devastating wildfires and how heavily it has affected our Maui neighbors and the historic town of Lahaina," Bob Gunter, President and CEO of Koloa Rum Company told ABC News. "Community means everything to us and as part of our ongoing commitment to the beloved people and places that make Hawaii so special, we’re donating 100% of company store sales on August 26 to Maui Strong."
The Southern Smoke Foundation, a crisis relief organization for people in the food and beverage industry, chimed in on Instagram to announce its support for Hawaii and help get funding for those in need on Maui.
"We're here to help. Tens of thousands of Hawaiians employed in the food and beverage industry are at tremendous risk as a result of the wildfires devastating the island," the foundation wrote on Instagram. "If you are in F+B and impacted financially by wildfires, please apply for emergency relief funding through Southern Smoke Foundation. Whether you have experienced displacement, property damage, have medical needs, or another financial issue because of the fires, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for assistance. We offer an anonymous process, provide no cap on funding, and can send funds as soon as possible. And we are here for you now and during rebuilding."