WAIANAE (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Foodbank is expanding its outreach through a new Food 4 Keiki School Pantry program, which has begun stocking some campuses around the state with food for children who are in need of a meal.
Four Hawaii Department of Education campuses are currently involved in the initiative, including Waianae Elementary School, where there are roughly 512 students between kindergarten and sixth grade.
More than 90 percent of those students receive meals for free or at reduced prices.
When school lets out on Tuesdays, excited student participants in the program race out of their classrooms and quickly line up to receive a free snack.
“We had a lot of students coming into the office in the morning, either with sore tummies or they’re really tired. They would outright tell us they didn’t eat,” said principal Ray Jeanine Pikelny.
Waianae Elementary School serves students from three public housing complexes, as well as several homeless shelters.
The school tried to meet their needs with donations from employees and businesses, but the supplies ran out in less than a week.
Administrators then reached out to the Hawaii Foodbank for help. The agency teamed up with the school and the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center to create a pantry on campus in January.
“We know that the kids aren’t going to be learning in the classroom if their stomachs are empty, if they’re thinking about when their next meal is going to happen,” said vice principal Sheldon Konno.
Children are able to pick up snacks before and after school each Tuesday. They can also take home emergency food bags to help feed their families.
Organizers say they’ve noticed positive changes in the students, including more energy and better behavior.
“Most of the people who come and get food or their kids are coming to get food are working families, and we’re just here to fill a gap,” said Alicia Higa, director of health promotion at Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.
The Hawaii Foodbank hopes to launch school pantries at Puuhale Elementary School, Kaewai Elementary School, Maili Elementary School, and Kamaile Academy before the end of the school year.
The program has already handed out about 21,000 pounds of food to nearly 13,000 school children and families in need.