Food Vault Hawaii building

A respected scholar and educator inside the classroom, Peter Hoffenberg is an associate professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Department of History and the author of dozens of publications. But perhaps his biggest impact on students has been made outside the classroom.

peter hoffenberg headshot
Peter Hoffenberg

Hoffenberg is the largest contributor to Food Vault Hawaiʻi, a free service available for students who do not have reliable access to affordable food, through donations and recruitment of other colleagues and friends to join in on the effort. When asked how much food he has donated, Hoffenberg said he has not kept track, but said at least “several carloads.”

“I am just a regular normal person. I hope that what I have done reminds folks that we ‘normal’ folks can make a difference,” Hoffenberg said. “I have many good friends who donate with me every few months. Some folks kindly donate money directly into the UH Foundation account and others very kindly donate food and personal hygiene items.”

Priceless impact

The Office of Student Life and Development (SLD) manages the food vault. SLD Interim Director Bonnyjean Manini said Hoffenberg also connected Food Vault Hawaiʻi with a local business and a non-profit organization, which have provided food donations, and he constantly checks in on the food vault’s progress.

“On behalf of the Office of Student Life and Development and as a fellow faculty member, I would like to sincerely thank Professor Peter Hoffenberg for his service and support of students through Food Vault Hawaiʻi,” Manini said. “Professor Hoffenberg’s actions are motivating and inspiring to me and the students who worked this past semester to operate the pantry.”

Nicole Cron graduated in spring 2020 with degrees in political science and Korean, and served as a Food Vault Hawaiʻi fellow. She has seen first hand the impact that Hoffenberg’s efforts have made on students in need.

“Professor Peter Hoffenberg has been one of the most impactful community members to the food vault,” Cron said. “He has not only been generous himself, but also, in reaching out for others who want to help. The food vault is incredibly lucky to have someone like Professor Hoffenberg to support us in our mission to help students get the food they need.”

Food vault beginnings

The idea of creating a food pantry on campus stemmed from a student food insecurity survey administered by Joannie Dobbs, assistant specialist in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, and her students. Results showed that approximately 50 percent of UH Mānoa undergraduate students who responded have experienced food insecurity.

Food Vault Hawaiʻi was established as a three-year pilot program starting in fall 2018 by SLD, the Associated Students of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Campus Center Board and the Student Activity and Program Fee Board. Since then, the food vault has given away thousands of pounds of food. Hoffenberg said he first heard about the food vault from a colleague.

“I was struck by what had never occurred to me: there are students without food and personal hygiene items, and they might not have the money on hand to purchase those necessary items. I understood ‘financial aid,’ but I suppose that had been an abstraction,” Hoffenberg said. “Food, soap, toilet paper, etc., struck at the gut level. These were the practical necessities of life. So, I want to thank my colleague for making me aware of this need and the institutional way that it was being addressed.”

Filling critical needs during COVID-19

Amid changes to campus life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Food Vault Hawaiʻi remains open and accessible to UH Mānoa students in need. Manini said even with the minimal foot traffic on campus, 10–20 students make appointments on a daily basis. To follow social distancing guidelines, distribution is by appointment only. Fill out this form to make an appointment for pick-up.

Anyone can donate food and toiletries by contacting SLD at or calling (808) 956-8178, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m., except on holidays. The food vault welcomes all donations, especially unexpired non-perishable food in original manufacturer packaging. The office is staffed and can arrange receipt of your donations at Campus Center 208. To contribute monetary donations, visit the UH Foundation website.

“The current crisis has reminded us of the gaps in our society and the edge on which many people live,” Hoffenberg said. “It has made clear those difficult circumstances and the food vault provides a way for students to acquire what they need in a manner which is consistent with public health requirements.”

—By Marc Arakaki