Whew! I never thought I'd say this, but after the last few weeks, I'm seriously considering installing a SPAM filter. Right over my mouth. That's right, I'm not referring to computers. I'm talking about comfort food, the wonderful pink stuff in the blue can.
Like most local folks, I love SPAM, always have. Lately, though, I've eaten much more than I should. More than a family of four should. But it's for a good cause. You see, at Kaunoa Senior Center, where I'm employed full time, we've just wrapped up a massive SPAM drive. Our goal was to collect 1,500 cans for Hale Mahaolu's SPAMstruction competition, and our ingenious front desk staff came up with the brilliant idea of "selling" SPAM musubi to their co-workers for more SPAM. One can gets you one musubi, with or without teriyaki sauce and/or furikake. So I've eaten lots of SPAM lately, just trying to do my part for the cause.
Hale Mahaolu, a private, nonprofit housing corporation, is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year with several big community events, including the upcoming SPAMstruction competition and the recent Fourth of July fireworks over Central Maui. The yearlong theme is "Through the Years . . . Remember, Live, Dream."
My own memories of Hale Mahaolu extend beyond the 10 years I worked there. I was just a kid when Hale Mahaolu Akahi was built on Wakea Avenue, across from the Maui Pine cannery. It was the first project of its kind on Maui, independent living for seniors. I thought the sprawling, single-story apartment complex was pretty cool. My grandmother, however, did not.
She thought of it as the place where people took their elderly parents when they didn't want to take care of them anymore. To her, it was a haole concept, not for Japanese families whose sense of filial piety was deeply ingrained. She'd shake her head and go, "tsk, tsk" whenever we drove by, feeling sorry for the poor abandoned parents whose ungrateful children put them there.
Much later, my mom tried to enroll my grandmother in Kaunoa's lunch program at Hale Mahaolu Elua. After all, Obaban used to enjoy attending Kaunoa's lunch site at Good Shepherd Church when she lived in Wailuku. Now that she was living with my parents in Kahului, Elua was the closest congregate site. Obaban was still leery of the place, and Mom had to go with her and stay through lunch because Obaban was convinced that if Mom dropped her off, she wouldn't come back for her. Eventually, she refused to get in the car. But Mom continued to attend, as a volunteer and a participant. After helping to serve the lunches and dining with her new friends, Mom would take a meal home for Obaban.
Today, my mother is the main volunteer at the Elua lunch site and a resident at Akahi. Obaban passed away two years ago, just shy of her 105th birthday. I wonder what she would think of her daughter-in-law now living at the place for abandoned parents. I know what Mom thinks; she absolutely loves her new home and busy life. From her apartment, it's a short drive to her other volunteer duties at Maui Adult Day Care Center and Hale Makua. She enjoys the activities organized by Hale Mahaolu staff and residents club - when she's able to fit them into her busy schedule.
Hale Mahaolu - the home of pleasant living - has grown to include nine senior housing sites and three family housing locations, with supportive programs like personal care assistance, meals, even homeownership counseling. In partnership with Kaunoa, Maui Economic Opportunity and other organizations, Hale Mahaolu provides a wide range of services to its residents as well as the larger community. The staff organizes and participates in numerous fundraisers and community events each year.
Which brings me back to the SPAMstruction competition. It starts at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11 at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Key Clubs from three of Maui's high schools will build structures from the thousands of cans collected. The winning club gets $1,500 for their school's Project Graduation, and the SPAM goes to Maui Food Bank and to Feed My Sheep.
Kaunoa ended up collecting 1,650 cans of SPAM for the cause, most of it donated by our senior participants. I'm too embarrassed to tell you how many SPAM musubis I've eaten over the past month. For the cause, of course. Good thing Hale Mahaolu is also organizing a health fair in conjunction with the SPAMstruction competition. I think I'll get my cholesterol checked. Not that I'm seriously concerned. Obaban may not have been a fan of Hale Mahaolu, but she did like SPAM.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.