Food program aims to expand presence

While most children look forward to the weekends, some may not.

There may be no school – but there may be no food as well for those children Saturdays and Sundays, a Maui Food Bank official said.

“Many children that are food deprived are able to get a free and reduced breakfast and lunch at school. But what do they do over the weekend? They don’t have access to the food. Maybe they get one meal (per day),” said Marlene Rice, Maui Food Bank’s development director.

To help those children over the weekends, the Maui Food Bank started its Aloha BackPack Buddies weekend food program during the last school year. Backpacks are filled with six meals and snacks to last the weekend. Students pick the bags up at school on Fridays and return them the following Monday.

Kihei and Kamalii Elementary were the first to participate in the program. This year, four elementary schools on Molokai and Wailuku Elementary School have joined the program.

More than 7,000 backpacks are expected to be filled and handed out to children this school year, said Rice.

“Our goal is to be in every school that wants to do the Aloha BackPack Buddies program,” she said.

There is a critical need for the program, said Rice, citing studies that show one out of five children on Maui as “food insecure” or in risk of going hungry.

“With people losing jobs and getting laid off, the backpack program really helps the parents. . . . They know the kids are getting a decent meal,” Rice said.

Although experts say the economy is slowing turning around, Rice said that the overall demand for food at the Maui Food Bank “has not changed.” The food bank still serves around 10,000 people a month, a trend that has been going on for the last three years.

Rice estimates that 40 percent of the 10,000 people served are children.

Rhonda Hay of Kihei, who volunteers at Kamalii Elementary School and packs the backpacks every week, said that she had one parent come in to volunteer because her child was receiving the weekend food backpack. Hay said that the mother, unemployed and single, was appreciative of the meals.

Hay, who has a child at the school, has been assisting with the backpack program at Kamalii even before the Maui Food Bank stepped in last school year. Kamalii began running the program two years prior.

“It’s such a great cause. For me, I think about it, if these kids don’t have food, they cannot concentrate to learn. It makes them grumpy. . . . It’s a basic need everyone should have (fulfilled),” Hay said.

Rice said that the program is modeled after a national program that gives students a drawstring backpack with breakfast, lunch and dinner inside. The food items could include cereal, milk, orange juice, apple sauce, lasagna, beef stew, tuna cups and granola bar snacks.

Because the meals have to be uniform and “kid friendly,” meaning no can opening or fancy cooking required, the food bank prefers monetary donations. Rice said that the kid-friendly component helps youngsters who may be home alone with parents working or unable to prepare meals for them.

Rice said each backpack costs $5 to put together, so a $20 donation would fill four backpacks.

Last school year, several sponsors stepped up to assist with the program. They were Kean Properties, Kihei Maui Self Storage, Goodfellow Bros. and Serimus Foundation.

Rice said Maui Food Bank is searching for new sponsors and donors this school year.

If people don’t have money but would like help, Hay said schools may need volunteers to pack the bags.

For more information on the program and to donate, call the Maui Food Bank at 243-9500 or go to

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at