Helping houseless kids

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Kaua‘i Senior Corps Retired and Senior Volunteer Program volunteers Gwen Saiki and Wilma Chandler discuss Friday how Chandler sewed the fabric face masks that are included in each package earmarked for children in unstable housing.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Tessa Belardo, state Department of Education Community Homeless Concerns liaison, discusses distribution logistics with Grace Meek of Project Vision Hawai‘i Friday at the presentation of care packages for children living in unstable housing by the Kaua‘i Senior Corps Retired and Senior Volunteer Program Advisory Board.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Tessa Belardo, the state Department of Education Community Homeless Concerns liaison, and Grace Meek of Project Vision Hawai‘i accept a load of care packages for children living in unstable housing from Donna Lynn Loo, the Kaua‘i Senior Corps Retired and Senior Volunteer Program director, and Timmy Abao, the Kaua‘i RSVP Advisory Board president, and Grace Delos Reyes, Carol Saiki, Gwen Saiki, Wilma Chandler and Gerald Ako.

LIHU‘E — Grace Delos Reyes of the Kaua‘i Senior Corps Retired Senior and Volunteer Program said an anonymous donor insisted the contribution be used to help homeless children.

That started a movement for Kaua‘i RSVP Advisory Board members to put together packages for the 21 known children living in unstable housing.

“Kaua‘i Complex Area Superintendent William ‘Bill’ Arakaki is an Advisory Board member,” said Delos Reyes. “He spent his last week on the job packing with us Friday morning. He retires at the end of the month, and had to leave for another meeting. He told us about the Department of Education and children impacted by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.”

In his stead, Tessa Belardo, DOE Community Homeless Concerns liaison, and Grace Meek of Project Vision Hawai‘i, accepted the load of 21 packages that will be distributed in communities from Kekaha through Kapa‘a.

“We asked in the community,” said Belardo, who is enjoying her first year as CHCL. “The most common thing everyone needed was fresh fruit and snacks; basically, food.”

Using that as a guide, the Kaua‘i RSVP assembled care packages that contained fresh fruit, assorted snacks, toiletries, cereal and antibacterial cleaner.

“Kelvin Moniz of the Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank provided each package with a clean towel, and Wilma Chandler sewed face masks enough so each bag will have two,” said Donna Lynn Loo, the Kaua‘i Senior Corps RSVP director. “We even made special packages because one lady is about to give birth, and another has special needs.”

Belardo said distribution of these packages is being done in partnership with Meek of Project Vision Hawai‘i.

“Having delivery capability, especially during these pandemic times, is because of Servco Pacific,” Meek said. “We need to go where these packages are heading to so I can help because I’m familiar with some of the families.”

The McKinney-Vento Act, passed in 1987, is a federal law that ensures the right of students to go to school even when they are homeless or don’t have a permanent address. The goal of the MVA is to reduce barriers that have prevented many homeless youth from enrolling, attending and succeeding in school.

Belardo said if a family lives in a shelter, in a car, park, beach or abandoned building, is doubled-up with other people due to loss of housing or economic hardship, or without a regular place to stay at night, may all qualify for certain rights and protections under the MVA.

During the 2018-2019 school year, there were 3,604 students ranging from preK through grade 12 identified by the state DOE. Totals for the 2019-2020 school year are still not available, the confusion being aggravated by the arrival of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Of these, the largest segment, or 57%, are living in doubled-up homes. Twenty-one percent are living in shelters, and 20% are unsheltered.

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

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