Good Food to Someone You Love
Food 4 Keiki School Pantries help hungry students feel proud to contribute by bringing food home.
Just take a drive through town, and it’s easy to see; we truly live in a melting pot of culture and cuisine. From fine dining and dim sum to potluck and plate lunch — so many things we do here in Hawaii are centered around food. Food connects us, and there may be no better feeling than feeding good food to someone you love.
But, what exactly is good food?
“Good food means something different to different people,” explains Alicia Higa, director of health promotion at Wai‘anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. “For someone who has a lot of money, good food might mean organic or grass-fed. But, for someone who is starving, good food is just any food at all.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet up with Alicia and her co-worker Moulika Anna Hitchens, community food system manager at the Health Center. We planned a visit to Wai‘anae Elementary School, where Alicia and Moulika helped set up one of Hawaii Foodbank’s Food 4 Keiki School Pantries.
I met them on a warm Tuesday afternoon next to a lone, portable classroom on the edge of campus. As we waited for the 2 o’clock bell to ring, we took refuge beneath a large monkeypod tree that gently hugged the classroom beneath it. It was fitting. Just as that tree provided us refuge from the sun that afternoon — that small, modest classroom was about to provide nourishment to dozens of keiki and their families.
As I looked up at that sunlight peering through the leaves, Alicia and Moulika described the ensuing parade of children we were about to witness.
“The need is great, especially on the Leeward Coast,” said Moulika. “Our whole coast is eligible for free or reduce-priced meals. The percentage of kids who can actually pay for lunch is so small that they just decided to have the whole coast receive free breakfast and lunch. Wai‘anae Elementary School is no different. Here, more than 90 percent of the student population has need.”
“It’s really eye-opening,” added Alicia, “Before starting the School Pantry, I’ve driven past food distributions on our coast and just thought, ‘Ah, they got it.’ But — to hear so many kids are still going hungry — you realize there’s a whole new layer of people who are not getting food.”
Wai‘anae Elementary School serves students from three public housing complexes, as well as several homeless shelters in the area.
“You see,” emphasized Alicia. “A lot of the kids come to school with sore tummies, or they’re really tired, or they have trouble concentrating. We need to be a part of the solution. We need to get the food directly in the hands of the kids.”
This touching affirmation was interrupted by the ring of the school bell, and a flood of keiki raced out of their classrooms. Filled with anticipation, the majority lined up outside the School Pantry. Each student received after-school snacks along with one or two bags of food to take home to their families. Emblazed with smiles, the keiki tore into their snacks and carried away their bags of food.
As we watched, Moulika leaned over and whispered, “These kids are so awesome. They are so appreciative for anything that we can provide. I feel like they’re proud to go home with food and contribute. Kids don’t always get the chance to feel like they can contribute — especially in a stressful environment.”
She paused. “It makes them feel good … Proud.”
I was blown away by how quickly everything was happening. In less than 30 minutes, the School Pantry efficiently served the entire school. As I watched the commotion settle, I noticed a lone, small girl timidly make her way towards the School Pantry. She inched her way up the portable’s stairs, where she was warmly greeted with a smile and a handful of snacks.
Her shyness vanished and was quickly replaced with a smile bigger than her backpack. With a humble “thank you” — she put her snacks in her bag, rushed down the stairs and eagerly ran towards a different monkeypod tree in the distance.
Once there, she pulled out two fruit snacks – one for herself and one for her older brother. He was waiting quietly at the tree to walk her home.
I’ll never forget the image of this young girl — maybe only five or six years old — as she looked up at her brother. Her arm was extended, ready to feed good food to someone she loves.
We are grateful for our partners like Alicia, Moulika and Wai‘anae Elementary School, who are helping us get food directly in the hands of vulnerable keiki. Your support can make a significant impact, too. If you’d like to help our Food 4 Keiki programs, please consider making a donation or volunteering to pack School Pantry bags at our warehouse.