On March 19, Brenda Auelua, a restaurant clerk, was laid off indefinitely from her job due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, 53-year-old has been spending her days caring for her eight grandchildren, who are out of school from school closures on Oahu. With money becoming tighter due to the lack of income, Auelua began to wonder how she was going to feed all the children and keep them healthy. Hearing from a friend that some of the public schools were offering free breakfast and lunch to children up through age 18 regardless of eligibility for subsidized lunch, Auelua decided to take a chance and see what it was all about.
For the past month, Auelua has packed up her grandkids in her van and driven them to King Intermediate School in Kaneohe to grab breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday.
“I was beginning to really worry how I was going to feed all the kids,” she said in late April. “When I found out about the free lunch at King Intermediate School my heart was filled with joy because now the kids had breakfast and lunch I could count on.”
King Intermediate School, located on the windward side of Oahu, was one of 12 public schools that started free grab-and-go meals on March 23. The Department of Education later added 29 new locations for grab-and-go meals throughout Oahu.
Liz Awana, a state cafeteria employee from Kaneohe, feels a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment knowing that her efforts are directly contributing to the fight against Covid-19.
“It’s a very satisfying feeling to see the faces of our youth of Hawaii when they receive their food,” said Awana, who is in her 16th year working in the cafeteria at King Intermediate. “I am happy to do anything I can to help families in our community during the coronavirus outbreak.”
The food is packed in containers and available for pick up outside the cafeteria from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. (for breakfast) and 11:30 a.m. to noon (for lunch). Children must be present in the car when the parents or caregivers are picking up their meals. The children do not have to be enrolled at the school site in order to receive the meals that are being served.
Although the line for the food pickup may seem long, it tends to move pretty quickly and won’t take any longer than 10 to 15 minutes to get to the front of the cafeteria.
Glenn Kitashima, a 42-year-old graduate of Castle High School, sees the great benefit in the schools providing important nutritional meals for all the students. He appreciates the state’s helpful attitude in issuing the “wonderfully prepared meals”.
“I remind myself every day to get in the car and take my three children to the school to grab them food,” said Kitashima. I find it extremely important to take advantage of the help that is given to us.”
The grab-and-go program is expected to expire at the end of the public school year in May. A few participants of the grab-and-go program expressed some concerns and fears of not having this program to rely on through the summer, before the next school year begins. Although extremely satisfied and grateful for the existence so far, Auelua is apprehensive of what she is going to do after the program is expected to end.
“Right now this helps a lot with all the food for the kids,” said Auelua. “But I really don’t know what I am going to do when the school year ends and the summer is here. Hopefully they will consider extending it over the summer.”
For a list of all the schools participating in the grab-and-go program, click here.