LIHUE — Music sounded through the campus of Kauai High School Thursday, signaling the end of the teaching day and the opening of the school’s food pantry for the third time.
Students flooded out into the hot sun, some catching rides and gathering in groups. Others started to form a line outside the small room that holds fresh, local produce, a few non-perishable staples and plenty of water.
“Anyone want a cold drink?” asked U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) from the balcony outside the room, beckoning young people to take advantage of the new Hawaii Foodbank Kauai Branch school pantry program at Kauai High.
She was on-island to visit the North Shore and see the rehabilitation progress after the 2018 floods, and also made a stop by the school to check out their new food pantry program.
Every Thursday the school distributes food and snacks to students who want them. Malama Kauai’s Village Harvest program brought freshly harvested starfruit, apple bananas and longan to distribute.
The first pantry day saw 50 students go through the line. The next saw 60. The school is still tallying numbers for Thursday’s attendance, but Vice Principal Benjamin Kershner says it’s gaining popularity.
“Once word spreads it’ll catch on,” Kershner said.
The pantry is one of five starting up at different schools around the island — Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, Eleele School, Koloa School and Kilauea School.
All are hosted under the umbrella of the Hawaii Foodbank Kauai Branch, in partnership with schools, churches and community organizations.
The line quickly grew at Kauai High, stretching across the lawn as students signed in, picked what they needed and said hello to the senator before leaving.
The pantry is structured to be casual to avoid making students feel uncomfortable about getting food.
Joell Edwards, farm-to-school program director for Malama Kauai, said there are plans to continue that relaxed atmosphere by distributing food in duffle bags rather than the blue plastic bags.
Kershner pointed out the school has set up the pantry so that students can cruise by right after school with their school ID, take what they need and then catch a ride home or to after-school activities.
“The goal is for them to start taking enough for the whole family, and that’s starting to happen a little. At first they were just taking a few things, just for themselves,” Kershner said.
After handing out a few bags of food, taking some photos and talking story with students and checking in with volunteers and organizers of the school pantry, Hirono left, reminiscing about her childhood.
“If they had this when I was growing up, I would have taken advantage of it. Sometimes we didn’t have enough to eat,” Hirono said. “I would have taken it back to my mom to help her out.”
Hirono is a big supporter of the Hawaii Foodbank pantry, and said she’s also an advocate of farm-to-school programs.
She highlighted the cooperation between agencies to complete those projects.
“It was good to see it reopened,” Hirono said of Kuhio Highway on the North Shore. “The last time I was here it was pretty much impassable. We had to access with a helicopter.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.