WAIMEA — Thousands of children would go hungry on the Big Island during summer break if it weren’t for federally funded summer meals and other local efforts.
Kids attending From Mauka to Makai, this year’s summer school program on the Kanu o ka Aina Learning Ohana (KALO) campus, are benefiting not just from what they’re learning but also food made possible by three restaurant owners and one grocery store that offered discounts to the program.
The summer school is a new partnership formed by Friends of the Future and KALO, combining 21st Century Community Learning Center grants that each received to fund out-of-school programming including after-school classes and vacation programs.
“The Friends of the Future grant was written for all of the schools in the Honokaa School Complex which includes those that feed into Honokaa High: Waimea Elementary, Waimea Middle, Paauilo Elementary and Intermediate, Honokaa Elementary and Honokaa High and Intermediate,” Angela Thomas said, who wrote the grant for the summer program through Friends of the Future. “KALO includes Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School and a number of other Hawaiian focused charter schools across the state.”
The collaborative summer program is open to any child in the community from kindergarten through eighth grade, and this year they’ve come from as far as Maui, Oahu, Puna, Keaau, Hilo, Paauilo and Kealakehe, in addition to every private, public and charter school in Waimea.
“Two weeks before the program started, our enrollment was at capacity with 150 students registered,” Thomas said. “It was important to the leadership team that children had access to breakfast and lunch, as well as snacks during the school day.”
Food for the program must come from additional funding outside the grants. Figuring out how to feed that many hungry students on a campus without a certified kitchen was a challenge.
“It made sense to do this together, but food became the big issue,” Te Beniomi said, the 21st Century grant program director for KALO.
One option was to order lunch through the Waimea Elementary Cafeteria and pick it up in bulk, but those meals would have cost $5.50 for lunch per child so Waimea restaurants and grocery stores were approached for more affordable meal options.
“We sat together and came up with community entities that could help us out,” Beniomi said.
Underground Pizza, Earl’s, The Fish and The Hog and the KTA Waimea agreed to meet KALO’s budget.
“Anything having to do with kids, I try to always discount and give them a better price,” KTA Waimea’s General Manager Colin Miura said. “We cover Fridays and other stores take care of other days to spread the wealth.”
Pulled pork sliders, pizzas, bento bowls and hobo bowls were some of the restaurant-quality lunch items served last week, the first in the six-week program.
“My favorite so far has been the pulled pork sliders from Fish and Hog,” eighth grader Sam Landers said.
Mistee Beaudet, a sixth grader chimed in, “These lunches are way better than the school I go to. The food seems fresher and there are more choices.”
The program staff also get more for their money.
“A normal hobo bowl is around $6 or $7 and KTA’s deli is giving it to us at $4,” Chelsea LaFrance said, the Honokaa Complex’s summer program site coordinator.
College student volunteers and staff spend around three hours each weekday setting up breakfast, two snacks and lunch, serving them and cleaning up.
“It’s important because in this community a lot of kids aren’t eating and may not have dinner so we offer reduced lunch scholarships,” Thomas said.
James Anthony, owner of Underground Pizza, wanted to be involved.
“We made 15 large pepperoni, 10 large cheese pizzas and Caesar salad to feed students last week,” he said. “We’re gonna do it every Tuesday for the rest of the program.”
Kaulana Nauka, a culinary enthusiast at The Fish and The Hog, dished up smoked pork with rice and steamed vegetables on Wednesday for the students.
“I was thinking back to my days at school when we had complete meals every day,” he said. “Nutrition is very important to me and I try to keep meals as balanced as possible.”
“It’s a higher quality of food. I like how it’s served — with aloha,” eighth-grader Joseph Lincoln said.
Currently, the Department of Education (DOE) does not provide lunches for charter schools like Kanu o ka Aina. As a result, kids have to buy lunches or bring their own.
“This summer program is truly a community collaboration, all to benefit our community kids. We were clever in figuring out the food for our kids and they’re really happy, but it should not have happened,” Thomas said. “There are two resolutions that have passed the legislature that are mandating that the DOE look at that because this cannot continue. It’s not only here, but across the state.”