Making an impact one meal at a time

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman John Linzmeier
  • 154th Wing Public Affairs
It’s about 11 a.m. on a Monday, reggae music is blasting on the stereo and two, casually dressed, Airmen from the Hawaii Air National Guard are driving all around one of Oahu’s lower-income neighborhoods.

Their route entails about five or six stops at the front doors of various residents. The two figures exchange witty banter as they park the car, then make their way through an aged apartment complex.

From an onlooker’s perspective, the scene might be reminiscent to the cult-classic film, ‘Pulp Fiction,’ when John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are about to carry out the bidding of an angry mob-boss.

However, these Airmen came to deliver food instead. As part of a city-subsidized meals-on-wheels program, they bring hot meals directly to those who are burdened with physical challenges.

Tech. Sgt. Randall Kobayashi and Staff Sgt. John Quisano have been regulars at meals-on-wheels for more than a year now. While the two Airmen from the 154th Logistics Readiness Squadron are technically volunteering, Quisano says it’s more like ‘cruising around’ with good company.

The two have a lot of similar interests. In between deliveries, they talk about work, surfing, spear-fishing, diving, family life and anything else that comes to mind.

“Doing stuff like this has helped me grow a lot as a person,” said Quisano. “It’s a good bonding activity too. You really get to learn a lot and see how fortunate you are when you see how others actually need the extra help.”

The hot meals are cooked fresh and picked up at a local retirement facility. Each delivery is catered to the specific needs of each recipient, be it a dietary restriction or a favored health trend.

Unlike some volunteer programs, where helpers gather supplies or prep meals behind-the-scenes, Kobayashi and Quisano reap the rewards that come with delivering the final product at the front line; almost always resulting in an exchange of smiles and ‘thank yous.’ Other times, the two might stay a little longer to check in on the people they meet and hear out their stories.

“With this service from the meals-on-wheels program, it really is a blessing and a big help,” said Juliet Won, a caregiver of one of the meals-on-wheels recipients. “When you're providing for and taking care of someone 24/7, it’s a quite a struggle and sometimes I go days without rest. So this service makes a huge difference for the individual being helped and also for the caregiver.”

Not only does the delivery service serve as an opportunity to help those in need, but Quisano also used it as an avenue to help himself and learn more from someone who he genuinely looks up to.

“My lifestyle was so different when I first came into the guard,” said Quisano. “At one point, I was nearly broke and that was very difficult because I have a daughter. Randal, he mentored me and he helped me to make a lot of positive changes to my life.”

Some parts of the delivery route give Quisano flashbacks of his life before joining the military. One of the stops is Quisano’s old, low-income apartment building. He said it’s a place where people are still dealing with the same struggles he once endured, and it’s humbling to go back and be of service to someone living there.

Family values also play a big role to both Airmen and their community involvement. Quisano will occasionally take his adolescent daughter along for the ride so she can help out as they go about their deliveries.

“She’s getting older and is starting to understand how older people need help too,” said Quisano. “I think it’s really special how she’s learning how important it is to help people at her age.”

For Kobayashi, the meals-on-wheels experience is partially motivated on terms that he considers to be selfish.

Growing up under the care of a single parent, Kobayashi was largely raised by his grandparents, who passed away before his college graduation. The loss his parental figures was huge, leaving him with the feeling that he missed his chance to take care of them in return.

“When the people who raised you start to get older,” said Kobayashi, “the kids usually get the opportunity of giving back to say thank you. But in my case, they left before I could really return the favor. So I sort of use this is kind of my way to make up for that.”

According to Kobayashi, the return-on-investment ratio is enormous. From start to finish, his delivery route takes about two, blatantly-enjoyable, hours. Thereafter, he and his partner are free to go about their day.

Oddly enough, Randal is not the only ‘Tech. Sgt. Kobayashi’ in the HIANG who has a heart for giving. An Airman from the 154th Maintenance Group, Jesse Kobayashi, has been organizing holiday events for veterans-in-need for years. As part of the United States Veterans Initiative, Jesse and his wife have planned an ongoing series of festivities. Usually, their events include live music, home-cooked meals and other donations to lift veterans spirits and help them get back on their feet.

Whether the case is organizing an event with more than 100 people or just the simple delivery of a personalized meal, Airmen like Quisano and the (unrelated) Kobayashi’s have developed an understanding that volunteering impacts more than just the recipients.

“Neither of us really see this as an errand,” said Randall Kobayashi, “We’re just lucky that we get to see the difference we’re making first-hand, and it’s very satisfying. You never know, any one of us could be in a position like the people in this program someday. It’s all about living your life, taking care of the people around you and doing your best while living on this planet.”