When Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell made a “very, very strong recommendation” at a televised press conference in April that everyone on Oahu wear a simple cloth mask when going out in public, he had at his side Dr. Darragh O’Carroll.
While the 35-year-old emergency room doctor demonstrated how to properly wear and sterilize a reusable mask, a television screen behind him displayed the logo for Every1ne Hawaii, a new community organization O’Carroll co-founded with eight other Hawaii millennials.
The group’s logo appeared behind the mayor’s lectern again two weeks later when Caldwell, flanked by two more Every1ne co-founders, turned his public mask-wearing recommendation into a mandate.
By the time Gov. David Ige made mask-wearing at public businesses a state-wide requirement, Every1ne had secured an order of 2 million masks from a factory in China and was making plans to distribute them to Hawaii residents for free.
The Every1ne brand name has since been widely visible on social media and in truck-side advertising as the group fulfills its goal of giving masks to people who can’t easily find or afford them.
So who is behind Every1ne Hawaii? And how did they get the funds to buy millions of masks and give them away?
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic response, it would be easy to mistake Every1ne for another nonprofit that is stepping up to help. But in fact it’s a for-profit business venture that has benefited from undisclosed funders and community donations as well as family and political connections.
Formed in January by a group of friends, many of them former Punahou classmates, Every1ne set out to encourage civic and social engagement.
Frustrated by the political divides and growing disconnect between communities in Hawaii, the group’s leaders said they wanted to foster civil, more inclusive public discourse about polarizing issues like climate change, immigration and the construction of a Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.
Every1ne’s first project was going to be a street music festival and voter registration drive in Kakaako. But when the founders learned that the Coachella music festival had been canceled due to COVID-19, they quickly understood the severity of the virus.
Not only would a music festival be impossible, but they knew their message of activating the millennial voting bloc would be inappropriate in the throes of a public health crisis.
So they changed gears. Instead of voting, they pivoted their focus to the threat of the coronavirus in Hawaii.
Lobbying the Caldwell administration to mandate mask-wearing in public became the group’s first initiative. The Every1ne founders said they decided to endorse mask-wearing in public in mid-March after researching the issue and talking with several of their friends who work in the medical field in Hawaii, as well as in virus hotspots like New York.
Robert Kurisu, a commercial real estate investor and an Every1ne founder, created an online petition on March 28 urging Caldwell to require Oahu residents to wear masks in public. The petition collected a few hundred signatures.
Five days later, Caldwell publicly recommended mask-wearing for the general public even though that same day Gov. David Ige and State Epidemiologist Sarah Park cautioned against the use of masks for people other than health care workers.
At that time, mask-wearing for the general public was also not recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kurisu said Caldwell’s announcement came on the heels of numerous conversations between Every1ne founders and the mayor.
“I don’t want to say that it was completely us,” Kurisu said. “But we were definitely there to support the plan and we were there during that press conference. And part of it was that we were going to be that system to get masks to people who didn’t have them.”
The problem was this: In March, there weren’t millions of non-medical masks available in Hawaii. According to Kurisu, much of the dialogue between Caldwell and the Every1ne founders centered on how the state could obtain a ready supply of masks for people to wear.
The Every1ne founders decided that they would be the solution. Tapping into their networks of friends, family and colleagues, the group found a mask supplier in China and bought an entire production run of disposable, one-time use masks.
Unlike nonprofits that are required by law to reveal their major sources of income and expenditures, Every1ne declined to say where it got the money to buy millions of masks and how it is paying for other projects.
Kurisu said masks were purchased with money from five anonymous private investors, some of whom are the co-founders’ family members and friends.
“I’ve been criticized about being too nebulous about helping people understand who we are and what this is.” Every1ne founder Robert Kurisu
Kurisu is the son of prominent Hawaii businessman and real estate investor Duane Kurisu, who is part-owner of the San Francisco Giants and who built the experimental homeless housing community Kahauiki Village.
Duane Kurisu is also the chairman and CEO of aio, a media and digital consulting company whose brands include Honolulu and Hawaii Business magazines. Aio names itself a supporter of Every1ne’s mask initiative on the company’s website.
“I’ve been criticized about being too nebulous about helping people understand who we are and what this is,” Robert Kurisu said. “Really it was a handful of guys that stepped up and said, ‘Let’s just place the purchase order,’ because every week that we delay and try to figure this out the purchase block could go away.”
Transporting the masks to Hawaii was another problem to solve. It would take a month or more to ship them to the islands by boat.
But the virus was moving fast. A month was too long to wait.
So the group turned to Hawaiian Airlines, which agreed to transport a cargo load of nearly 1.6 million face masks from China to Honolulu on April 21.
“It was a crazy ask — ‘Hey, can you fill a plane with these masks and fly it over?’” Kurisu said. “The worst they could say was no, but they said yes and that’s the most amazing part.”
The remaining supply of 400,000 masks procured by the group arrived on Oahu a week later.
The group says its goal to provide masks for the masses in Hawaii has been largely powered by a diverse, well-connected network of supporters ranging from Hawaiian Airlines and the Honolulu mayor to dozens of professional athletes and the manager of an Asian food market.
Through Caldwell’s support of the group, Every1ne got its name and mission in front of thousands of people watching the mayor’s press conferences for COVID-19 updates.
Danny Kim of Koha Foods, which specializes in imported goods from Asia, facilitated the group’s connection to a mask manufacturer in Shenzhen, China. Kim also helped the group navigate hurdles with Chinese customers.
Hawaiian Airlines was instrumental in transporting the bulk of the masks to Hawaii in a timely manner. The airline donated the plane and crew. Every1ne covered operational costs, such as fuel and landing fees.
Every1ne founder Zak Noyle, a surf photographer, has drawn on his relationships with pro surfers to assemble a cast of dozens of social media influencers — UFC fighter Yancy Medieros and pro surfers Ezekiel Lau, Carissa Moore and Ian Walsh — to promote mask-wearing and help with mask giveaway events.
Mask distribution efforts have been possible through partnerships with dozens of groups including the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, Andy Irons Foundation, Nisei Veterans Memorial Center and Vibrant Hawaii. While Every1ne hosts some of its own distribution drives, it also relies on nonprofits in its network to dole out masks to people in the communities they serve.
“For us to go out to the Waianae coast and start handing out masks, the trust level isn’t there,” Kurisu said. “So we’re working with larger organizations that already have programs and people in place.”
Every1ne’s target demographic for mask distribution is people who are vulnerable or underserved, including kupuna, keiki, Native Hawaiians, and people who are homeless or incarcerated.
Nicole Velasco, an Every1ne founder who works in business development for the energy company NORESCO, said the founders aren’t interested in gaining public recognition. They have been quiet about their roles in the organization, she said, because their accomplishments so far have relied heavily on the help of so many other people and organizations.
“There was a lot of discussion of, ‘Well, who are these people and what are they?’” Velasco said. “Even one person suggested we were the illuminati.
“There’s all kinds of crazy, crazy discussions happening and it was almost refreshing for people to see well, actually, it’s not some highfalutin corporate entity. It’s literally people who grew up here, want to be here and have friendships.”
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