Event to benefit Angel Network, keiki

By Simplicio Paragas

Rodney “Mac” Macalino was addicted to ice and in and out of jail. Bernie Simeona was homeless for 14 years and jobless. Mililani Keliihoomalu was going through a divorce and close to not having a place to sleep. Their stories are compelling and triumphant, proving that human will can conquer life’s adversities. However, the three openly admit that they wouldn’t be where they are today had it not been for the Angel Network Charities, an Aina Haina-based nonprofit group and one of the beneficiaries of the Fifth Annual Taste of East Oahu.

“I used to come here myself for food, a shower and to wash my clothes,” said Simeona, who once slept on the beach and inside abandoned houses. “But now I’ve been off the streets since 2007 and have my own place.”

After graduating from drug court in 1996, Macalino turned to Angel Network’s late founder, Ivy Olson, who embraced and helped him to a path of sobriety and free of his addiction to crystal methamphetamine. And when Keliihoomalu had no money for a deposit for an apartment, she, too, turned to the Angel Network. Today, she lives in Makiki with her 15-year-old son and has applied to the master of social work program at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

Rodney "Mac" Macalino Photo by Simplicio Paragas

“Aside from having to answer to a judge every four to six weeks, I had to answer to Ivy (who passed away of cancer in 2002),” smiled Macalino, now the operations manager for Angel Network Charities. “She gave me inspiration and I still get chicken skin whenever I think about her.”

For the past two years, Macalino has had to answer to a completely different entity: attendees to the annual Taste of East Oahu. “It helps bring community awareness about the Angel Network and what we do here,” he said. “It also sheds light on the problem of hunger and homelessness.”
Scheduled for Saturday, April 30, from 6 to 9 pm., the event will feature top chefs who’ll abandon their kitchens to help raise funds, not only for the Angel Network Charities, but also scholarships for Calvary by The Sea Montessori School and the Youth Group.

Tickets are $60 ($75 at the door), of which $30 is tax deductible. Also available are Oceanside VIP tables for 10 at $1,500 ($750 is tax deductible), which includes a champagne and pupu reception at 5 p.m.; as well as Mauka reserved tables for eight at $650 ($325 is tax deductible).

“This is not a church potluck party,” said events chairwoman Marilyn Hamada. “This is an upscale event with great restaurants, live entertainment and a silent auction.”

This year’s lineup of restaurants will see some returning names but several new entries include Cake Couture, Pizza in the Raw and Poke Stop. Returnees will be Chai’s Island Bistro, Duke’s Waikiki, Hokulani Bake Shop, Maile’s Thai Bistro, Memoirs Hawaii and Michel’s. Meanwhile, HASR Wine Company will uncork more than 40 different fine wines and Duncan Osorio, Steve Brown, Paul Shimomoto and Calvary’s own hula halau, Na Wahine O Ke Kai Ola, will provide the entertainment.

With the economy still recovering and unemployment still high, Hamada said the church has seen a lot more people visit its charitable organization in search of food. “We’re the only food pantry in East Oahu,” she said, referring to Angel Network. “And we’re probably giving out five times more food than we were a year ago.”

And Macalino has the numbers to prove it. Referring to a spreadsheet, he pointed out that they help feed on average 950 adults, 450 children and 550 families per month. “When I first started here, we were maybe only serving 50 people,” he asserted. “Now people come from as far as Makaha, Nanakuli and Waianae. You can see the pain in their eyes when they come here.”

Food will certainly not be in shortage on the night of the event, which has seen a steady climb in attendance during its four years.

“Taste, as we call it is one of the most important fundraising and relationship building activities we do here at Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church,” said Pastor Timothy Mason. “It is reasonable to assume many of our successes over the years would not have been possible if not for the generous support and effort that goes behind every Taste of East Honolulu event.”

And no one knows that better than Macalino, Keliihoomalu and Simeona.

“Ice was ruining my life; I was committing crimes that I would never had done until I started smoking ice,” Macalino said. “Now I get a natural high helping other people turn their lives around.”

Where: Calvary-by-the-Sea Lutheran Church, 5389 Kalanianaole Hwy., Aina Haina
Parking: Free parking is available at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church and Aina Haina Elementary on East Hind Drive. Shuttle service will run every 15 minutes from 4:30 p.m.
Call: 377-5477 or 551-3117
Web site: www.tasteofeastoahu.org
E-mail: tasteofeastoahu@ gmail.com; or purchase online at www.honoluluboxoffice.com

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