Alumni Join Forces to Provide Two Million Masks in Hawai‘i

With the intent of providing free masks to people across the Islands, nine young leaders – seven of whom are Punahou alumni – founded a group, Every1ne Hawaii, with a goal of distributing two million masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Classmates Robert Kurisu ‘04 and Nicole Velasco ‘04, who spearheaded the grassroots organization, said the group chartered a Hawaiian Airlines plane to China on April 22 to bring 1.6 of two million masks to Hawai’i. It was the State’s largest private purchase and donation of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). “For all those who cannot afford, make or access a mask on their own, our group would serve as that supporting backbone across the State,” Velasco said.

Every1ne Hawaii was able to procure the masks directly from a Chinese factory, with the help of the local food distribution company, Koha Foods, which rallied its international connections and resources. The next hurdle was getting a shipment of that size to Hawai‘i as soon as possible, since ocean cargo would take too long, Velasco said.

Kurisu said Hawaiian Airlines stepped up and agreed to transport the first 1.6 million masks, just as Hawai‘i Gov. David Ige mandated masks in the Islands. “That whole endeavor was an exercise in international relations, a complicated mission by Hawaiian Airlines crew, pilots and cargo staff, and it was chicken skin to see the plane arrive in Honolulu with a water salute,” Kurisu said. “I got emotional when the cargo crew unloaded the masks.”

Since then, Every1ne Hawaii – which also includes Alx Kawakami ‘04, Zak Noyle ‘04, Ryan Matsumoto ‘02, Darragh O’Carroll ‘03, Jeff Laupola ‘03, Keoni Williams and Kimo Kennedy – has donated more than 1.2 million masks across the Islands, with assistance from trusted community partners. “We continue to work with our friends throughout the Islands to make sure that the most vulnerable and underserved folks in our statewide ‘ohana are protected, too,” Kurisu said.

The Punahou Connection

Kurisu said the group came about at the end of 2019, after a conversation with Noyle, his friend from Punahou, about what they could do to energize the younger generation to register to vote. They decided to organize a “Rock the Vote” concert, and another Punahou friend, Matsumoto, tapped music industry insider Kennedy to secure artists. “While we had the music side down, we needed the civics side of the equation, and that’s when I called on more friends who would become the other co-founders for Every1ne Hawaii,” Kurisu said.

Velasco said the timing was right since there was already a small group discussing civic issues. But just as the legwork and planning began for the concert, Hawai‘i went into lockdown from COVID-19. While the event had to be postponed, the group quickly rerouted to help support Hawai‘i during the pandemic. “At first, we ran a social media awareness campaign to encourage our peers to wash hands and stay home, especially since there were reports that our generation wasn’t doing so,” Kurisu said. “However, I soon realized that we needed to do much more after several friends who are doctors across the country expressed concern about Hawai‘i’s preparedness. In fear that Hawai‘i would soon look like Italy and New York, many in the local medical community felt like they needed a voice to demand that more be done by our City and State leaders.”

The group reached out to Kawakami, whose family company, ‘Iolani, was contracted by Queens Medical Center to sew face masks using surgical fabric supplied by the hospital. After spending a couple of weeks procuring PPE from China through Christina Reed ‘04 Killips’ husband, Evan, we realized that Hawai‘i would never gain traction in the global battle for PPE.

Making Masks Mandatory

“We rehuddled with our friends in the medical community, like Dr. Darragh O’Carroll ‘03, an ER doctor at Kuakini, and Dr. Michael Yim ’04, to shift our strategy and find epidemiological support for mask wearing by the general public,” Kurisu said. “Late-night brainstorming sessions, scouring the internet for supporting research and discussions with various epidemiologists locally and on the mainland resulted in a proposal and roll-out plan to support mandated, non-medical mask-wearing in public throughout Honolulu County.”

The group presented their plan – signed by 330 people, including many local medical professionals – to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and worked with his team to support a staged rollout of mask-wearing by the general public.

“Every bit of progress was and continues to be made possible by relationships rooted in aloha – a way of being that is in the bedrock of our foundation,” Velasco said. “While there are nine of us on the core team, there are literally hundreds of people around the world who made this possible. We are so grateful for each of them and we know that we couldn’t have done this without everyone. This situation is not an easy one, but we hope people take to heart the more important message that we are so much better when we come together and support each other.”

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