With gatherings suspended because of the coronavirus, West Hawaii’s Meet and Eat program has switched gears and hit the streets.
The weekly event had been held Wednesday evenings at Kealakehe Intermediate School for over 27 years, providing dinner and fellowship to scores of neighborhood children and families. When schools closed and gatherings of more than 10 people were restricted, the Rotary Club of Kona, which runs the program, decided to provide a drive-up grab-and-go food drop on Saturdays at Kahakai Elementary School.
“The kids were getting grab-and-go lunches during the week, so we decided to feed them on Saturdays,” said coordinator Jenaya Rockman.
The lunches included a sandwich for each member of the family, not just the kids. State Department of Education-sponsored grab-and-go meals are only available to school-aged children. In addition to sandwiches, each family received a bag of groceries that included an assortment of fresh produce and other food items. In all, Rotary members made and bagged 200 sandwiches comprised of deli meats and lettuce and 70 bags of groceries.
Ardie Ikeda had run the program for 26 years, serving approximately 250,000 meals in that time period. He retired in 2018 and passed the reins to the Rotary Club of Kona, but on Saturday, he was back at it again.
“We got donations from Cal-Kona (Produce), KTA (Super Stores), The Food Basket and University of the Nations,” said Ikeda as he brought out pans of sandwiches and bags full of groceries from his car.
“I’m just in an advisory position now,” he chuckled.
A steady stream of cars came to the Kailua-Kona elementary school where the recipients were asked how many people were in their family, and a sandwich for each member was added to the grocery bag and placed on a table where it was retrieved, all in an effort to maintain social distancing.
In the first half-hour, nearly 100 sandwiches were distributed.
In addition to the food donations, the Rotary Club of Kona has committed to over $20,000 to cover expenses.
“We are trying to raise more money because we know this is going to go on for a while,” said Rockman.
She said the club is encouraging their members to donate what they would normally pay for their weekly meeting luncheons.
“We are really using our lunch money for this,” laughed Rockman.
Donations to support the weekly Meet and Eat program may be made online at www.rotaryclubofkona.com.
Other organizations also offering help amid crisis
In addition to the Saturday grab-and-go lunches, the club is also assisting with the Salvation Army’s Thursday night feeding at Hope Services.
The Salvation Army has also seen a tremendous increase in the number of people seeking food assistance.
“Our numbers have increased and we are feeding now Thursday and Saturday for our homeless community,” said Kona Salvation Army Lt. Raghel Santiago. “As for our food pantry, oh how it has increased! We have people who never signed up before coming up to us because they have recently lost their jobs.”
She said last week they gave out over 400 bags of food and are in need of canned goods, gloves, food, brown bags, lunch bags, bottled water and clamshell takeout boxes.
“Because our preschool and thrift store are both closed, which usually generate revenue for us, we are financially struggling, therefore donations — be it monetary or items — are much appreciated,” said Santiago.
For more information or to contribute, visit www.hawaii.salvationarmy.org.