New food pantry opens at Kauai Community College

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Lani Nagao, left, and Juliana Olds, University of Hawaii interns working on their master’s degrees in social work, stock the ‘Ono Mea ‘Ai cupboards during the soft opening of the Kauai Community College food pantry Monday.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    John Constantino shows Rose Ramos-Benzel and Chantal Zarbaugh the contents of one of the ‘Ono Mea ‘Ai cupboards of food Monday during the food pantry’s soft opening at Kauai Community College.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Kelvin Moniz, Kauai Independent Food Bank executive director, left, gets help from Kauai Community College Chancellor Helen Cox and Associated Students of the University of Hawaii-Kauai president Mark Baltazar in severing the ribbon to open the ‘Ono Mea ‘Ai cupboards of food Monday at KCC.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Lani Nagao, a University of Hawaii intern working on her master’s degree in social work, helps Mark Baltazar, the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii-Kauai president, with his pre-packed bag of food from ‘Ono Mea ‘Ai food pantry at Kauai Community College Monday.

PUHI — What is the difference between the food pantry that opened last week and the one being blessed Monday at the Kauai Community College Student Life lobby?

Kelvin Moniz, Kauai Independent Food Bank executive director, noted that the food pantry that opened last week is for Waialeale Project students. The ‘Ono Mea ‘Ai food pantry that enjoyed its soft opening Monday is for all KCC students.

He further noted that the Waialeale Project pantry focuses on food students can eat on campus while the ‘Ono Mea ‘Ai is geared for students to take home food to eat with their families.

“I know we really needed this,” said KCC Chancellor Helen Cox. “We have students who really need this. It’s really hard to study when you’re hungry. It has been a pleasure to work with an amazing group of people who developed this.”

‘Ono Mea ‘Ai food pantry consists of two lockers of food, separated into ready-to-take and pre-packaged assortments. The pantry is monitored by the University of Hawaii master’s degree in social work interns and serviced by KIFB on a weekly basis.

“We should not have food insecurity,” said Mark Baltazar, Associated Students of the University of Hawaii-Kauai president. “This is one of the things the University of Hawaii is working to — eliminating food insecurity among the students — and it’s nice to see people helping other people sharing food.”

The need for ‘Ono Mea ‘Ai lost little time showing itself, as more than a dozen pre-packaged food assortments went through the doors within an hour of the dedication ceremony led by former Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and Peggy Lake of the KCC Office of Continuing Education and Training.

“It’s little things like this that make a difference,” Baltazar said. “When I was younger, I needed to bring napkins to school. But my mother said they cost too much and we couldn’t afford it. I had to go to school without any and had to face the other students. We have so much. We should share so no one needs to go without. That is important.”

Rose Ramos-Benzel, KCC development director, said the process for making ‘Ono Mea ‘Ai a reality started in June when she launched a fund to keep the food pantry in operation. A final visit by the state Department of Health and minor tweaks in logistics led to approval for project opening.

“We have been working with the Kauai Independent Food Bank to create a food pantry for our students,” Ramos-Benzel said.

She said that, acccording to US News, a recent government report estimates a range of 9% to 50% of college students experience food insecurity. That same report states that more than 650 food pantries had opened, or were in development, on campuses across the nation.”

In the interim period of development, her office provided counselors with meal coupons entitling students in need to eat in the cafeteria.

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Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.

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