KAHULUI When Kahului Elementary School Principal Fern Markgraf met St. Theresa Church priest Monsignor Terry Watanabe and his aunt, Leona Rocha-Wilson, at a fundraiser recently, they asked her what her school needs.
"I told them rubber slippers," she recalled Tuesday. "And they said, 'What?' "
It's not what one might expect as a need from the Central Maui elementary school with an enrollment of 985 students. They might need schoolbooks, paper, crayons or art supplies. But slippahs?
Kahului School 4th-graders (from left) Eternity Taclan-Chang, Kealohi Real and Sinai Hungalu make friends with newly elected Maui state Board of Education member Leona Rocha-Wilson and her dog, Sparkle Plenty, on Tuesday afternoon while inspecting a trio of large bags of slippers donated to the school by parishioners at St. Theresa Church in Kihei.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Indeed, "rubber slippers are something we run out of a lot," Markgraf said. "They break a lot. Our kids are always having broken slippers."
She explained that, for safety reasons, children are required to wear something on their feet - covered shoes, a sandal or a slipper.
"The olden days (in Hawaii) when kids all had bare feet are no longer acceptable," Markgraf said.
Sixty-five percent of the school's children are classified as being in poverty because they receive free and reduced federal meal benefits, and many come to school with broken slippers held together by duct tape or "mended any way they can," she said.
So, after learning of the need for slippers, Watanabe and Rocha-Wilson, the newly elected Maui member of the state Board of Education, decided to do something. On Thanksgiving, instead of asking St. Theresa parishioners for donations of food, they asked for help in getting slippers for the school.
And, on Tuesday, they showed up with three large black garbage bags full of slippers, Markgraf said. They came in "all different sizes, different styles and different colors," she added.
Last year, the donation of slippers came from Valley Isle Fellowship, Markgraf said.
She said she hopes this recent donation will provide the school with enough spare slippers to get through the school year.
Rocha-Wilson said Markgraf, Watanabe and the St. Theresa parish should be credited for this year's slipper success. "The greatest of thanks goes out to them for doing an outstanding job for the community," she said.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.