Helping Hungry Keiki Among Us

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - April 15, 2009
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Students receive backpacks of food for the weekend

Thomas Moon, principal of Kaiulani Elementary School, sees them every day - kids who are needy, hungry and sometimes desperate.

“For whatever reason, some of them are missing meals during the week as well as the weekends,” he told me as we stood amid a pack of boisterous fourth-graders.

He pointed out a boy in an oversized gray shirt. Police recently picked him up at midnight, trying to walk to Jack in the Box to buy food. Think about how scary that is, and sad.

We’re talking about a 9-year-old child walking by himself in a tough neighborhood in the dark - just to get something to ease the pangs in his stomach. Moon said the school staff is aware of his plight. The teachers and office workers try to help, even bringing their recyclables from home to give to him so he can sell the cans and bottles for money.

“Originally the reason was for him to make money to pay off his library fines. But when he didn’t pay his fines they asked him why, and he said he was using the money to eat.”


 

You may think this little boy’s story is heartbreaking. I certainly do. But it is even more disturbing because we know that he is just one child out of many in Hawaii whose families are scrambling to survive.

“Since then we found out we actually have quite a few kids who are recycling,” Moon said. “I think they make enough to go buy Spam musubis at the stores.”

I was there that day to do a story about the pilot “Food 4 Keiki Backpack Program” sponsored by the Hawaii Foodbank. It’s for children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, and in this school that’s a whopping 80 percent of the kids. Bridget Kanakaole is the parent coordinator who oversees the program: “We have a lot of kids who come from the shelter and on the weekend they have a hard time getting meals. We nurture (children from) Mayor Wright Housing and IHS (the Institute for Human Services). We have three or four families that are living in cars. We actually have quite a few kids who are relying on the backpacks a lot.”


So at this school, every Friday, the kids get to take home a backpack containing food purchased by the Foodbank. The day I was there the bright blue bags held a small carton of chocolate milk, a pack of beef sticks and a tuna lunchable complete with fruit and a cookie. It may not look like a lot of food to you or me, but it can mean the difference between an empty stomach and a full one. And to a child, that is a big, big thing.

The Food 4 Keiki program is just one of the ways the Hawaii Foodbank helps feed Hawaii’s hungry. The Hawaii Foodbank’s annual food drive is this Saturday, April 18. I hope you can find it in your hearts to give a donation of food or cash at the many drop-off sites around Oahu. Or bring your contributions to your local bank or any KFC.

Any amount - large or small - will be deeply appreciated.

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