New UH-MC club highlights the true meaning of the season

KA‘ANA MANA‘O

As most of you read this, your children are anxious with anticipation about the presents that await them on Christmas morning, and you may be well into planning the Christmas meal that is traditional in your family. Perhaps you’re even looking ahead to your New Year’s celebration. Most of us are blessed, indeed.

Maui people are also generous. So we hope you will take a few moments during these next days to think of those not so lucky. It’s something we’re doing here on our University of Hawaii Maui College campus with a new club called Hui Haumana.

Seventeen-year veteran UH-MC staff member Iris Latu brought the idea to fruition last semester. But the seed was planted in her mind years ago. Iris knows firsthand what it’s like to need help.

“I came from some hard times,” she says. “I was a single parent. It’s hard to juggle your budget. My kids never complained. I just can’t see children going hungry. I was looking at Facebook one day a few years ago and noticed a student had written that he couldn’t do his test because he was hungry. I messaged him to find out where he was. He was in his math class. I told him, ‘Stay where you are.’ I went to our Pa’ina cafeteria, picked up lunch, brought it to him and said, ‘Eat and take your test.'”

Such a simple solution. And it’s something that Iris did many times on her own. She operates our campus switchboard, runs our mailroom and our lost and found. And she keeps cups of noodles, Vienna sausage and other food there for whenever a student stops by and says he or she is hungry.

“I would go to the cafeteria and see them looking at the food and not walking out with anything. I would follow them to the library — my office is on the ground floor of the library building — and tell them to stop by.”

Word got around about the student club. People stepped up. The Hui Haumana club was started in January and has now partnered with the Student Success Committee and the Maui Food Bank. The club holds car washes, silent auctions and other fundraising activities with proceeds going to the food bank, which then distributes food back to Hui Haumana. A major food drive is held throughout the month of April every year on all UH campuses with everything going to each individual island’s food bank.

The program is “no questions asked.”

“Everything is confidential,” says Iris. “When a student comes up to us, there’s a very simple form for them to sign and they get an ID number with a card. I tell them if they come for food and anyone asks for their name, just show your card. Our philosophy is, ‘You’re hungry, we help feed you.'”

Iris also hires students.

“I’m the only one in my office so I hire students and train them to answer the phones, phone etiquette, I teach them to run postage meters, and handle all the different mail services.”

Helping our students in yet another important way.

In advance of this holiday season, the club received some other much-needed donations. “We are blessed that a ministry came and dropped new sleeping bags, other clubs brought toiletries and school supplies,” says Iris.

This is the meaning of the season. Hui Haumana gratefully and happily accepts donations — food and monetary — from businesses, organizations and individuals.

If you or anyone you know on our UH-Maui College campus needs food, Hui Haumana is there for you. The club is located in the mailroom on the ground floor of the library and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

For more information, please email Iris at ilatu@hawaii.edu. If you do email her, you’ll find this quote from J. McFarland at the bottom of her response: “If our hearts are in the right place, then service will become a part of who we are, not just what we do.”

It is how she lives. Mahalo nui, Iris, for who you are.

* Lui K. Hokoana, Ph.D., is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. “Ka’ana Mana’o,” which means “sharing thoughts,” is scheduled to appear on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.

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