New sponsors sought as free meals for Hawaii kids drop for summer

Only 51 public schools statewide will offer free Grab-and-Go meals over the summer to children, far fewer than during the spring semester that was cut short by the COVID-19 crisis or even last summer.

When Hawaii’s public schools shut down for good at spring break to fight the spread of the coronavirus, the Department of Education ramped up distribution of meals to children who normally depend on school for that nutrition.

Altogether, 74 school sites offered the meals, handing out more than 1.2 million breakfasts and lunches between spring break and the end of the academic year on May 28.

“The Grab-and-Go program has been an incredible support for our children and their families during this time of economic uncertainty and we thank our dedicated cafeteria workers, staff and administrators who have worked tirelessly to keep the daily meal distributions running smoothly,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a statement.

“As we transition to the summer break, many of our 10-month employees will not be available to staff current sites, but partner organizations will be stepping forward to keep summer meals available at other sites in our communities,” she said.

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Community programs are supplementing the Grab-and-Go program but they too are lagging behind last summer’s participation and may not be enough to meet demand.

“Hawaii Child Nutrition Programs is still working to get prior community sponsors to serve meals this summer as well as recruit new sponsors,” said Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst for Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. “Especially this year, when we know there’s so much more need, we hope more sponsors will come on board, and that DOE will get more schools to serve meals.”

“It’s understandable that the pandemic is causing challenges, but we’re just trying to find a way to get as many sites open as possible,” she added.

Last summer, free meals were available to children at 71 public schools, a record high, through the federally funded program.

The breakfasts and lunches being offered at 51 public schools this summer are free to children 18 years or younger, regardless of eligibility for subsidized meals, and to special ed students through age 22. Children do not have to attend the school where they pick up the meal.

Some campuses are taking a break this week and will resume meal service on June 8. Most will operate through July 17.

Community organizations offering summer meals this year include the YMCA, which is sponsoring free meals at 11 locations, and Kama‘aina Kids, which is working at various preschools. Other providers include Palama Settlement, Parents and Children Together and Windward Nazarene Academy.

Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center is giving out grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches for keiki and kupuna at four sites from 10 a.m. to noon through July 31.

At participating public schools, breakfast is served from 7:30 to 8 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 to noon, with meals handed off to via walk-up or drive-thru.

A list of campuses offering those summer meals, as well as a separate list of community organizations on board so far, may be found online at hawaiipublicschools.org.