Since 2015, Kapiʻolani Community College has been helping to feed hungry children at various Oʻahu sites as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, which ensures children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches have access to nutritious meals and snacks when school is not in session. During June and July, the Kapiʻolani CC culinary arts program prepared 20,000 meals for hungry keiki across Oʻahu.

When Hawaiʻi public schools closed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kapiʻolani CC sprang into action and started a spring feeding program, with the assistance of existing and new partners and generous donors.

culinary students preparing food
Kapiʻolani CC culinary students Geoffrey Yanit, right, and Anju Tsukahara.
culinary student slicing meat
Student Steven Zane, an apprentice with the American Culinary Federation.

Beginning March 16, they cooked more than 17,000 meals over the span of four weeks. During the week of April 12, the Kapiʻolani CC cafeteria cooked about 1,200 meals a day Monday through Friday. Local non-profit organizations are serving as meal site partners, who handle food pick-up and distribution of to-go meals at eight sites throughout Oʻahu.

“We’re producing meals for children who are out of school and are usually eligible for free and reduced lunch, but during this interruption, the school lunches that are available may not be offered in all the schools (or children may not be able to get there to pick these up),” said Daniel Leung, Kapiʻolani CC culinary arts program coordinator. “What we feel is that at least we can provide at least one nutritious meal a day, with a kitchen that meets all the USDA guidelines.”

Hawaiʻi Department of Education data for the current school year shows almost 85,000 students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

“Without the community feeding program that we’re doing right now, I think there’s a lot of children that wouldn’t have meals that we’ve been able to provide,” said Kapiʻolani CC Culinary Arts Operations Manager John Mizokawa.

Community collaboration

people packing food containers
Volunteers box the food at Pālolo Valley Homes.
three children holding food containers
Meal participants receive the food.

In addition to the usual rigorous food sanitation and safety measures that the Kapiʻolani CC culinary arts program follows, COVID-19 protocols are being practiced. The Kapiʻolani CC cafeteria staff are also working to scale up to maximum capacity of about 1,500 meals a day. It’s a true community effort, with collaborators such as La Tour Bakehouse and Zippy’s working to develop products for the program.

“One of the things we try to do is work with the local suppliers,” said Mizokawa. “We work with farmers that are producing produce and beef and things like that, trying to utilize those products so that those farmers get some sort of income stream.”

The community feeding effort has received support from Walmart Foundation, Harold K. L. Castle Foundation, the Ulupono Fund at the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, the Healy Foundation, Kaiser Permanente and various individual donors. The University of Hawaiʻi Foundation has also set up a web page for others to support the program.

With increasing unemployment, the numbers of hungry children and vulnerable community members are likely to rise dramatically. Leung says the Kapiʻolani CC culinary arts program is committed to the community feeding effort through the summer, until the end of August.

Mizokawa said, “It’s difficult at times, but, it is gratifying to know that we are able to make a difference.”

Note: Any requests for assistance from UH campuses should be directed to Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency via the web EOC portal.

—By Kelli Trifonovitch