Okaʻs lāhui-minded mission raises $10k to support food security

Sept. 14, 2020

Contributed by 'Alohi Bikle

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nikki Oka KSK’13 and her ‘ohana  volunteered at a food and goods distribution event in Kakaʻako where kūpuna, mākua and others waited in the hot sun for food relief. After witnessing their critical need, she felt compelled to do more.  

But there’s one question the Kamehameha Schools investment analyst asks before beginning a new project: Is it lāhui-minded? Her most recent endeavor, Hānai Kaiaulu, a virtual silent auction in support of local food security would most certainly receive a standing ovation answer of, “ʻae.”

“COVID-19’s heavy-handed impact on Hawaiʻi has only further highlighted our disproportionate reliance on imported resources, including food,” Oka shared. “Our food security net needs to be strengthened.”

To address these concerns as well as adhering to physical distancing protocols, Oka, a self-described “digital native,” turned to the social media platform Instagram. There, she enlisted a sizable network of contacts setting the stage for a virtual silent auction comprised of 75 businesses from five islands and five states.

“I knew whatever effort I decided on, it had to be socially distant,” Oka said. “A [virtual silent auction] served as an opportunity to build pilina in a time where we can’t holoholo with people in real life.”

Over 90 items were donated with all proceeds appropriated for Hoʻokuaʻāina of Kailua, Oʻahu and ʻĀina Hoʻokupu O Kīlauea of Kīlauea, Kauaʻi – organizations serving Hawaiʻi’s communities in need through food distribution and ʻāina-based education.

The items up for auction ranged from puakenikeni-printed washi tape by KS Kapālama Band Instructor Kea Peters KSK’07 valued at $25 to an oceanscape painting, poured with deep sea water from Ka Piko o Wākea (the equator) gathered on Hikianalia during the homecoming leg of Hōkūleʻa’s Worldwide Voyage in 2017 by crewmember and local artist Hana Yoshihata, valued at $300. Oka also received support from KS Strategic Analyst Jordann Ares KSK'98 who donated a Sweet Home Hawaii print through her own design company.

In continuing her lāhui-minded approach to the project, Oka sought guidance from local ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi kumu Kāʻeo Izon and his haumāna on a name that encompassed the goals and most importantly intent of the silent auction.

“The word ‘hānai’ can mean ‘to adopt’ or ‘to raise,’ but it also refers to an unsolicited responsibility to nourish or support someone in their time of need,” Oka said. “These organizations feed and nourish our kaiaulu, communities, and now it's our turn to fill their ʻawa bowl and mālama them.”

Oka set a goal of $5,000 based on the retail value of the items in the donation pool. At the end of the three-day bidding process, Hānai Kaiaulu had raised $9,066 – which exceeded her expectation, but Oka didn’t stop there.

She put out a kāhea to her network asking for support in reaching double of the original goal. In one day, 31 additional donors answered her call with Hānai Kaiaulu ending at $10,000 raised and ready to be shared with Hoʻokuaʻāina and ʻĀina Hoʻokupu O Kīlauea.

In a time where Oka says individuals are looking to rally around causes greater than them, it’s easy to look at this endeavor at the surface level as “just a silent auction.”

“When you peel back the layers, however, there was collaboration, people making a conscious choice to support local small businesses, at a time when kōkua was needed the most, and interconnectivity,” Oka said. “Even though we’re all at home, we’re all behind our screens, I feel more connected than ever to my community.”

KS Investment Analyst Nikki Oka KSK’13 turned to the social media platform Instagram to aid in her lāhui-minded mission of supporting Hawaiʻi’s food security needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All promotional materials for Hānai Kaiaulu were designed by Oka, who also ensured auction items were easily identifiable on her Instagram feed, curating each piece in a yellow frame to signify inclusion in the silent auction bidding process.

Oka received donation support from fellow KS employees including KS Kapālama Band Instructor Kea Peters KSK’07 and Strategic Analyst Jordann Ares KSK’98 who contributed a Sweet Home Hawaiʻi print (lower right-hand corner).