HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kapiolani Community College's culinary department prepares and delivers meals to seven sites that serve free summer lunches during weekdays for school-age kids.
"For some children it's the only meal they may have that day," operations manager John Mizokawa said.
Free summer meals are also available at 69 public schools.
But a new report by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) shows only 1 in 10 youngsters and teenagers from low-income households take advantage of the program. And that could be hurting the state financially.
Nicole Woo of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice said Hawaii is near the bottom of FRAC's national ranking, coming in 41 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
"A lot of these kids rely on free or reduced-price school lunch during the school year. During the summer we don't know where they're getting their meals if they're not taking advantage of the summer food program," she said.
The FRAC report shows low participation robs the state of more than a million dollars a month in federal reimbursements for the meals.
Mizokawa believes Hawaii is making positive strides in delivering summer meals to needy youth, but more groups need to get involved.
"I think the problem is there isn't enough providers that will produce the food," he said. "There's also a problem with sponsors to be able to serve the food to children."
Woo thinks the state needs more locations offering the free summer lunches.
"Making connections between programs where kids are already going and people who can provide the meals the key," she said.
Advocates of the free summer meal program say parents also need to do their part to find out where free meals are being served then encourage their kids to get there.
Below is a list of school offering the free lunches: