To stand in the kitchen of The Institute of Human Services, you can feel a sense of warmth, comfort, and happiness that’s palpable as smiles abound amidst the hustle and bustle. Lunch boxes are carefully filled and stacked high. Carts roll by with donated baked goods. The occasional guest peeks over a mountain of boiled eggs to get a glimpse of what’s cooking in the kitchen today.
The kitchen is the heart and belly of the IHS' Sumner Street location. It is a hurried hub of activity as food is prepared for two emergency shelters and seven more specialty homes and residential communities islandwide.
Manning the IHS kitchen means a fast-paced and never-ending workload. Yet for Meal Program Manager Ana Alualu, who orchestrates a kitchen team of eight, this is a labor of love. To Ana, this is more than a job. It is what she is most passionate about, a calling. Ana credits her past experiences to shaping her passion.
She recalls growing up in the housing projects of Halawa with her hard-working parents, who struggled to make ends meet. When her life was about to take a turn for the worst as a teenager in the wrong crowd, she remembers the firm and compassionate hand of intervention as her father had her reassigned to another school where she thrived. That intervention changed the trajectory of her life. Ana would go on to pay forward the gifted kindness she received through her career at IHS, spanning nearly a quarter of a century.
For Ana, hunger and struggle built up her character. It nourished her faith and foundation, keeping her alert to opportunities that would help her find the right path. As a debt collector in Chinatown, she saw the toll of poverty and desperation. She also saw the daily plight of those experiencing homelessness, which opened her eyes to a new career.
In her early 30s, she joined IHS as a greeter for visitors and guests to the shelters. She would progress to work in several positions within the organization, where she quickly learned the many ways the system could help people. She saw how the meal program could serve as an intervention program--a connecting point for guests to access services and for the community to offer help. She formed partnerships with bakeries, food banks, and Produce Managers at grocery stores to build the meals program to what it is today.
Ohana is everything to Ana. It’s a value and bond that permeates her personal and professional life. She speaks with joy about the wealth of love that abounds in her large extended family: “When we have a family reunion, we take up the whole park, and we all cook!”
She views IHS and all the guests who she serves as part of her extended family. “All of my kids served as volunteers for IHS. They all helped in the kitchen and have been a part of this family too.”
Help Ana reach her goals for the food program in 2021 and donate food or financial support to the program. You can also serve meals or help find groups to serve meals, drop off to-go bentos or sack lunches. We’re working towards more nutritious meals with Wellness Wednesday on the 3rd Wednesday of the month. To get involved or for more information, contact IHS’ Development team at 808.447.2814.