The town of Lahaina, which lies on Maui’s West Coast in Hawaii and is known for its stunning views and socio-historical significance, was once a captivating destination for tourists. Unfortunately, this premium community has been significantly reduced to ruins after a wildfire ravaged local businesses and displaced many.
The town’s official website reads, “Lahaina Town is no more, but the people of Lahaina still stand together.” Latest updates reveal that at least 115 people lost their lives to the wildfire while not less than 385 people are still missing.
In the midst of this tragedy, one woman is fighting hard to keep her faith in a brighter future alive and remain a beacon of hope to displaced persons. Her name is Lee Anne Wong, a well-known chef, restaurateur, and TV personality.
Wong is popular for being one of the stars of Top Chef, an American reality competition television series. She has lived in Hawaii for a decade and, before the fire, managed a restaurant called Papa’aina at the Pioneer Inn, in Lahaina.
Unfortunately, Wong’s restaurant is one of the local businesses that was destroyed during the wildfire. Speaking with NewsNation, Wong said that there was no way she or anyone else could have prepared for the tragedy that struck. She described old Lahaina as “a matchbox waiting to happen.” However, she believes the community will recover and is dedicated to playing her role in ensuring that Lahaina bounces back to its past glory.
She said, “We will recover. But it’s just, it’s gonna take time and it’s gonna take a lot of effort from the people here on the ground and the people who want to reinvest and rebuild in Maui. You know, so it’s hard to say right now, I think our focus is just on figuring out how much damage was done.”
Wong also took to her Instagram to disclose that she hasn’t stopped to process or grieve the loss of her restaurant. “Buildings can be rebuilt, people cannot be replaced,” she wrote.
To that end, instead of sitting down to mourn the loss of her life’s investment, Wong has joined other volunteers to partner with World Central Kitchen by preparing nourishing meals for victims. “We’re here to say, ‘hey, we see you. We wanna cook for you, we wanna feed you,'” she says.
Wong, alongside many other volunteers, has cooked and served about 10,000 meals to homeless people every day since the fire. They prepare the meals at the University of Hawaii Maui College using donated products and ingredients that can be found in the region.
Wong isn’t the only chef who has dedicated time and culinary skills in service to the people of Lahaina in these trying times. Chef Sheldon Simeon is another popular local chef who believes that service to those in need remains a priority. “As a chef, the first thing I wanted to do is like, ‘how can I help?’ I can cook,” he said. “This is a grassroots community effort to feed people that need to be fed — It’s a group of chefs and just community people making food, giving from their hearts and feeding our community.”
We’re grateful for the inspiration these culinary heroes have been, and our thoughts are with the victims of this unfortunate incident.