As Catholics, we are called to feed the hungry, especially in our own communities. In the State of Hawai’i, one in six children faces hunger and food insecurity. Here at St. Michael, the Malama Na Keiki ministry has partnered with Holualoa Elementary School — across the street from the Immaculate Conception mission church — to reach students who are facing hunger.
“It’s a Corporal Work of Mercy to feed the hungry, and there is great need here among the local people,” says ministry leader Jo Ann Dunn. “We all feel that through this ministry, we are doing something worthwhile and good.”
The ministry started in 2014 as a way to provide meals for children who receive free or reduced-cost breakfast and lunches at school, but may or may not have adequate food at home over the weekends. Teachers at Holualoa identify which children qualify for the program, and the ministry would put together backpacks of food for each child to take home at the end of each week.
“I have always done the shopping, and we had other volunteers who would get together and pack it all up,” Jo Ann says. “We would always include nonperishable items such as cereal, oatmeal, macaroni and cheese, and tuna. It would be enough to get them through the weekend, and we would distribute the backpacks every other week. It worked well for a while! After we’d pack the backpacks, we’d take them to the school and drop them off, and the school counselors would be able to give it to the kids who needed them.”
However, with the onset of COVID-19 and children home from school, it was necessary to modify the ministry’s approach.
“With COVID, our mission changed from feeding the kids on the weekends to supporting the school families that were in need,” Jo Ann says. “We started distributing bags of food every other week, and the parents were able to come and pick it all up. We also added a family bag that includes items like bread, peanut butter, rice, pasta, Spam, Vienna sausage, and canned chicken and tuna. We are also able to give them fresh produce such as leafy greens, turnips, carrots, lettuce, green beans, and squash from our Immaculate Conception Sharing Garden. We’ve continued to operate this way since COVID, and it has worked out very well.
“Our biggest hurdle has been when families aren’t able to get to us to pick up the food,” she adds. “We have a teacher who is our contact at Holoalua who offered to be an alternative pickup place, so we’ve been able to take it to her house and the families can go pick it up from her when they are able. During the summers, we donate snacks to a local summer day camp, and also donate backpacks and school supplies to a local organization that holds a school supply drive.”
Malama Na Keiki works closely with the Immaculate Conception Food Pantry and also receives donations from the local food bank as well as from generous parishioners. The ministry also relies on the work of dedicated volunteers to run smoothly, undertaking tasks such as food shopping, packing bags, distributing bags, and donating food and other items.
“We have one volunteer who likes to make special bags full of goodies for the kids for occasions like Halloween and Easter,” Jo Ann says. “We also had another volunteer with a farm who would donate fruits and vegetables for the ministry. We really appreciate all our volunteers, and there’s always an opportunity for something to do.”
For more information about Malama Na Keiki, please contact the parish office at 808-326-7771.