DOE Closing Some Food Sites, Advocates Concerned That Community Help May Not Be Enough

The Hawaii State Department of Education is closing about a third of its grab ‘n go food sites for the summer, and many more are taking a break until June 8th.

Hawaii public schools ended its academic year last week after completing months of distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. DOE estimated that it has served about 23,500 meals a day at 74 schools across the state.

However, beginning in the summer, the number of sites drops to 51 schools while some are also transitioning to lunch-only service.

The 51 sites represent a decrease from the 71 food sites offered last summer.

Randall Tanaka, DOE facilities and operations assistant superintendent, said the decrease in sites are due to a lack of staff available to handout meals.

Over the past few months, teachers, administrative staff, principals and vice principals have been volunteering at their schools to provide the grab n’ go service.

“These guys have been running pretty hard. They got to go back and do their duties,” Tanaka said. “We began to see some decline in some areas for breakfast and some areas for lunch. With the multitude of other feeding opportunities where people can get food, we began to see this decline.”

However, Nicole Woo, a senior policy analyst with the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Economic Law and Justice, an advocacy nonprofit, worries that other community groups may not be around this summer to pick up the slack.

“There are some summer service programs that are going to be serving kids, but we have heard that some have decided they’re not going to come back this summer,” she said.

“There might be fears about safety due to the virus, they’re not having their summer program or they just are struggling in the pandemic just to have their operations running at all . . . right now the community is struggling just as much as the schools are.”

Woo explained that during the normal school year, about 60,000 to 65,000 students receive free or reduced lunch. She suspects that number will grow due to the financial impacts on families of COVID-19.

Tanaka hopes that the summer program can scale up from the planned 51 sites. He noted that when the grab ‘n go sites initially started in March, DOE increased the number of locations from 46 to 74.

Takana is looking for solutions to the staffing problem such as employing recent graduates looking for summer jobs.

“But it’s an escalation of cost, and if I pay site “A,” it has to be fair to the other 50 sites that we have,” he said. “Still working on that.”

In the meantime, the DOE is trying to target areas with the highest need, and find more non-perishable options to supply students with breakfast at the lunch-only sites.

Parents and students can go to to see which schools are still offering meals.