With more residents facing unemployment and hunger due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaiʻi Community College culinary arts students in Hilo are pitching in and helping prepare meals for Hawaiʻi Island residents.
As part of their classwork, the college students have been cooking meals for keiki at a local charter school Tuesdays and Thursdays this fall semester. And on a day in November they prepared 600 meals of luau stew, salad and rice for residents in the Puna District.
“They just pick it up, they warm it up and there’s a meal for their family,” said culinary arts student Mariah Costa.
The college students’ contributions are part of a broader effort led by two nonprofits, Chef Hui and Vibrant Hawaii. The organizations are partnering with local farmers and restaurants on Hawaiʻi Island to source ingredients, prepare meals and deliver them into the community. The initiative relies on CARES Act funding, and is a way of addressing food scarcity while also supporting the local restaurants and farmers who have been hit hard by the pandemic.
“The intention is, keep the farmers farming, keep the restaurants who support those farmers in business, feeding their local communities,” said Mariah G. Williams, Chef Hui volunteer and owner of Poke Market in Hilo.
For the students, the project is an important part of their education. Typically, they would get real-world culinary experience by operating an on-campus restaurant. Due to the pandemic, however, the campus restaurant is closed. Culinary Arts Professor Brian Hirata said the partnership with Chef Hui and Vibrant Hawaii is a different way of providing that hands-on experience for students while also helping address some of the negative effects of the pandemic.
“It’s a win for the farmers, the community and our students as a learning opportunity,” said Hirata.
Student Jason Sagaysay said it’s been a rewarding part of his education.
“It’s a community based project, so we’re helping feed the families that really need it for this time of COVID,” said Sagaysay. “I actually feel a lot better knowing we’re helping people in need that really, really need it.”
Hawaiʻi CC offers its culinary arts program in Hilo and at the Hawaiʻi CC–Pālamanui campus in Kona. The program is accredited by the American Culinary Federation. Students in the program earn associate degrees and certificates that prepare them to work in the restaurant and hospitality industries.
—By Thatcher Moats