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Pilot food distribution program wraps up

More than 4,000 boxes delivered to food insecure keiki

Workers and volunteers pack boxes with bread, milk, canned goods and local produce before distributing the meal kits to youth on Maui and Lanai. BRYAN BERKOWITZ photos

To address food insecurity among keiki on Maui and Lanai, a food distribution pilot program delivered 4,200 boxes of grocery items this summer, which was enough for 56,400 meals.

With the help of local community organizations, the Kaukau 4 Keiki program served 600 balanced meal kits to children every week from June 16 up until last week when the program concluded.

According to a study by Feeding America and the Maui Food Bank, one of every five children is food insecure in Maui County.

“They really depend on school meals to meet their hunger needs, their food needs and to have a program like Kaukau 4 Keiki and to fill that gap is really essential for these kids, especially for so many families who are struggling during the pandemic,” said Maui County KK4K Coordinator Kaimana Brummel. “We also learned through pandemic food distributions, that even though folks were giving away boxes of food through pick up, that was still an obstacle for a lot of families, whether it was timing or they don’t have a vehicle, and so delivering the food directly to the families helped to remove a lot of those obstacles.”

With a chapter on Oahu, Hawaii island, Kauai, and a pilot on Maui-Lanai, the Kaukau 4 Keiki program attempts to fill the youth food access gap by providing students with a weekly box of food, which was delivered directly to students’ homes during school breaks, Brummel said.

To address food insecurity among keiki on Maui and Lanai, a food distribution pilot program delivered 4,200 boxes of grocery items this summer, which was enough for 56,400 meals.

Each box contains milk, bread, canned protein and fresh Maui produce and is delivered by a team of community members. In the future, Brummel said they are working toward making the grocery items 100 percent locally sourced.

KK4K serves students 18 years and younger and up to age 22 for those with disabilities. The program serves keiki who live in zip codes starting with “967.”

Funding for the food was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with Hawaii First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige and the City and County of Honolulu.

Brummel on Sunday said that “we couldn’t have done this without Maui United Way,” which was the fiscal agent for the program.

Nuestro Futuro Foundation also donated $80,000 to Maui United Way for the Kaukau 4 Keiki summer meals program, which went toward purchasing food and distribution efforts to conduct the program on Maui and Lanai.

KK4K was also supported by Mahi Pono, which collaborated with local farmers to contribute fresh produce, Hawaii Farmers Union United Hana Chapter, Hawaii Food Service Alliance, as well as Sensei Farms, which helped to distribute meals to Lanai households.

KK4K distributed 46,200 pounds of local produce from 18 farms, created 20 paid jobs, and engaged 20 volunteers, Brummel said.

While the majority of the breakfast and lunches were driven to families across the Valley Isle, about 32 boxes were assembled and distributed in Hana, and 20 boxes were shipped and distributed throughout Lanai City weekly.

Five Lanai residents through Sensei Farms took turns picking up the boxes from the ferry sent over by KK4K.

Once the organization heard KK4K wanted to send meals to Lanai, but needed drivers to complete the task, Hawaii Human Resources Manager of Sensei Ag Scott Pisani said “we all had the same reaction, which is that we wanted to help.”

Pisani, who assisted with deliveries, added that “it was really rewarding to know” that they were able to coordinate the food services for families in need on a remote island.

“I think the Lanai community recognizes that sometimes things are difficult on Lanai or some things are logistically more complicated than maybe some of the other neighbor islands and so it’s not uncommon for folks to step up for their community and help out when they can,” he said.

Families whose youth were eligible and received groceries through the program over the past seven weeks “seemed really appreciative.”

Moving forward, Brummel said that they hope to continue the food distribution program on Maui and Lanai during students’ fall, spring, winter and summer breaks, depending on funding.

“We would be really excited to continue to participate in whatever way we can,” said Pisani, adding that Sensei Farms is mulling ideas to contribute fresh and locally grown produce as well as assemble and distribute food boxes on Lanai.

“Whatever we can do to help out our keiki,” he said.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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