The project to build a large toolshed at the Makiki Community Garden began three months ago with more than 20 boys helping out.

Then came the coronavirus.

“Obviously, with the current virus situation, we’re not able to do that,” said Kai Szostak, the 17-year-old spearheading the project in his effort to become an Eagle Scout — the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve.

But that doesn’t mean the urban garden won’t get its new toolshed. The pandemic may have changed up the plans a bit, the high school senior said. But he, with his father, will continue building the shed to completion, safely involving help when they can.

Once completed, the toolshed — made from all recycled material — will become a place where gardeners can not only store their tools but also gather and feel a sense of community within the Makiki Community Garden, which the garden’s president calls an “oasis,” especially in a time of crisis like now.

“It will be sort of a little community center,” said John Szostak, Kai’s father.

John (right) and his son Kai work together to build a tool shed as part of a project for Kai's Eagle Scouts program, at the Makiki Park Community Garden, on Thursday, April 9, 2020 in Honolulu, HI. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
The Makiki Community Garden needed a larger toolshed. Kai Szostak and his father, John, responded. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

Kai Szostak said he got in touch with the garden, across the street from his home, as he was searching for a community service project to become an Eagle Scout. The gardeners needed a bigger shed for large tools such as a wheelbarrow, so that’s what he chose to build.

“Sometimes, it’s just kind of nice to help out in the community,” he said.

The teen enlisted his Boy Scout troop members to help out, but the crew ran into a problem when the COVID-19 pandemic began to worsen in Honolulu. Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued a stay-at-home order that went into effect March 23.

The order shut down all city and county parks, including the Makiki District Park where the community garden is located. It also meant troop members couldn’t gather to work on the shed.

Honolulu reopened the community garden, but not the whole park, on March 27, which allowed the would-be Eagle Scout to resume his work in a limited capacity.

John (left) and his son Kai work together to build a tool shed as part of a project for Kai's Eagle Scouts program, at the Makiki Park Community Garden, on Thursday, April 9, 2020 in Honolulu, HI. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
The Szostaks were getting help from the teen’s Boy Scout troop, but because of the coronavirus outbreak, the father and son are doing most of the work now. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

“The plan now is for us to do most of the work,” John Szostak said.

And they’re facing a deadline of sorts — they would have to finish before the teen’s 18th birthday, which is coming up in May, for him to qualify to become an Eagle Scout.

Regardless, the elder Szostak said what’s important is for his son to learn something from working on the project and that it fulfills a community need.

“All aspects of the project are supposed to deliver some kind of lesson,” he said, whether learning about the recycled material they buy, the people from different backgrounds they run into at the garden, growing their own food for sustenance or having a different way of looking at the world. “That’s the sort of thing I want my son exposed to,” he said.

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Kai Szostak said the project was indeed a learning experience for him, not only about project management, logistics and building, but about the garden itself.

“I feel like I’ve been able to learn a bit more about how it works,” he said.

Joshua Winter, president of the Makiki Community Garden, which started in 1975, said the gardeners have been very supportive of the teen’s shed project.

Hoses and tools have been stolen, so a reliable toolshed — especially one that can store big tools — was badly needed, he said.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “We were fortunate that we were able to get this approved.”

The toolshed will be a great addition to the community space, where people come to unwind, grow food and talk to others, Winter said. Especially during this pandemic, people need somewhere to go for relief.

“As long as social distancing is practiced, I think it’s a really healthy option for them,” he said. “To go down to the garden, get some food, reconnect with the aina.”

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