Claire Shimabukuro


As executive director of Hawaii Meals on Wheels, Claire Shimabukuro has a lot on her plate managing the organization — and yes, she also has a hand in delivering the meals. But she took time out of her busy schedule to represent the United States and Meals on Wheels America May 28 at the international Foods for the Elderly symposium in Seoul. She was an opening speaker during the conference, which helped to address South Korea’s issue of food insecurity.

She hopes that sharing what Hawaii Meals on Wheels and parent organization Meals on Wheels America are doing will lend a hand not only to South Korea, but also to other nations present at the symposium.

According to Shimabukuro, food insecurity is a huge issue for seniors all over the world. In South Korea, a developed nation, poverty among seniors is the highest in the world. Food insecurity arises from poverty when access to nutritious food is too small for people to survive.

“It’s not only the issue of food and the kinds of food that seniors need, like pureed food or chopped food for those who have difficulty chewing and swallowing,” Shimabukuro explains, “or medically therapeutic food like low-sodium and low-fat options.

“The issue isn’t merely the food, but also the logistics of delivery. There are so many different models of how to get the food to people.”

Hawaii Meals on Wheels offers options such as hot/cold meal delivery or congregate dining.

“Meals on Wheels also means that someone is coming to socialize with them, to visit — and that’s extremely helpful,” she adds.

Those who lack socialization sometimes fall into depression because of loneliness, or face problems such as a fear of falling, which can lead to anxiety.

“There are also issues of isolation and some of the mental conditions associated with being isolated,” Shimabukuro notes. She looks forward to the opportunity to share with other nations what good solutions she has experienced during her tenure with Hawaii Meals on Wheels, as well as the chance to learn from other countries.

“And also to have some international good will is something that’s pretty exciting to me,” she adds. “It takes the issue of good neighbors to an even broader level.

“No matter where one comes from, country to country, culture to culture, we all need to have food, we all need companionship, we all need to have safety, and the whole idea of working on a global basis is very powerful and inspiring.”