The day after Valerye Huff Zimmerman’s condo was destroyed in the Maui fires, the WSU Cougar alumna was helping feed evacuees and emergency responders.
Merriman’s Kapalua, the resort restaurant where Zimmerman and her husband Eric work, had experienced a power outage. The chefs came in to cook the food before it spoiled.
“Word went out that Merriman’s would have food at noon,” says Zimmerman (’10 Comm.), manager of special projects. “It started like that.”
By the end of August, the restaurant north of Lahaina was providing meals to about 1,000 people per day.
“We’ve really found our niche in delivering meals to emergency responders and the community,” says Zimmerman. “There’s a huge influx of volunteers, disaster relief people, and the National Guard. Many of them aren’t taking time off to eat, so we’re getting hot meals to them.”
The restaurant also delivers meals to families. With fire evacuees, some homes are sheltering up to 20 people. Donations help support the meal deliveries.
Each morning, Zimmerman texts her contacts at different drop off sites to determine how much food is needed that day. She works with the chefs and restaurant staff to organize meal planning and delivery routes. Eric Zimmerman drives a delivery van.
“We have a really awesome community here on the west side of Maui, and in our workplace,” she says. “Staying busy helps take our minds off what happened.”
The couple fled their condo near Lahaina’s historic Front Street on foot when embers started falling in their yard. “I had watched a documentary on the Paradise Fire in California where people died in their cars,” Zimmerman says. “I didn’t want to get stuck.”
After a brief stop at a friend’s house, Eric raced back to the condo to retrieve his wallet and check on their neighbors. Zimmerman pushed forward with the couple’s border collie. At 4:30 p.m., the skies were dark from smoke.
“The wind was so intense, it sounded like a freight train,” she says. “I could hear things exploding—propane tanks, cars, transformers. When I took off my mask, my teeth would be covered with ash.”
During the chaotic evacuation, she met a coworker. They walked together for about two hours before accepting a ride to a friend’s house north of Lahaina. Eric arrived about a half hour later, sooty and shirtless but safe. Nothing remained of their condo.
To support Maui’s economy, Zimmerman encourages tourists to continue to visit parts of the island that remain open for business. Friends have offered the couple a place to live through December while they figure out their next steps.
“Our plan is to stay, and hopefully rebuild things better than ever,” Zimmerman says. “The last thing we want to do is to leave the place we love so much when it needs us the most.”
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Hawaii state Sen. Tim Richards (‘84 DVM) is helping coordinate relief efforts, including deliveries of insulin and diapers to the burned areas.
Joseph E. Cardoza (’72 Poli. Sci.), a retired judge, is helping connect fire survivors to legal information as chairman of Hawaii’s Access to Justice Commission.
Hawaii wildfires: Former WSU football player Hercules Mata’afa recounts helping parents escape before family home burned (The Athletic, August 14, 2023)
How to help Maui
Credible relief organizations accepting donations to help those affected by the wildfires, including pets