With cereal, chips, soups and snacks stacked neatly on the shelves, refrigerators stocked with frozen meals and other necessities and platters of produce on the counters, Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai, a new food pantry located at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, is ready to serve university students in need.
Although the pantry, the first of its kind for the university, will officially launch its one-year pilot program in the fall, Tuesday marked its soft opening.
The goal of Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai is to help students who have “food insecurity,” said Kalei Rapoza, interim vice chancellor for administrative affairs.
Food insecurity means not having reliable access to sufficient amounts of affordable, nutritious food.
He did not know how many university students lack sufficient food, but Rapoza said confidential surveys will be available during the soft opening to help better understand what type of support students need.
According to a university news report, UH President David Lassner in 2017 formed a Food Insecurity Committee with representation from all 10 UH campuses to research food issues, explore current programs and develop recommendations to better meet food needs for UH students statewide.
“Food insecurity among college students is a growing concern for campuses across the nation,” Lassner said in the report. “Simply stated, hungry students have a harder time learning and graduating. And the stresses of paying for college all too often mean students don’t have enough money for the food they need. We face this serious issue across our University of Hawaii system as well.”
Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai is not intended to supply all the food a student might need in a week, but will provide supplemental food to students who need it.
“This was an idea that was developed by a student intern as part of a class project, and it will provide a benefit for students in need of food assistance,” Rapoza said.
The intern, business major Jordan Kamimura, was not immediately available for comment.
“I was a former dean at the College of Business, so the fact that it was a business student that came up with the idea was really nice,” said interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai.
She thinks seeing the results of their work, “translated into something that’s lasting,” has a bigger impact on students’ learning than classes alone.
UH-Hilo’s mission talks about learning and discovery inside and out of the classroom, she said.
“So this is a good example of something outside the classroom coming to pass because of what a student has researched.”
Students will need a valid UH-Hilo student ID to access the food pantry for the initial visit, after which Rapoza said those students will be issued a Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai ID card.
Each item in the food pantry is given a point value of 1 (side dish or snack), 2 (one meal) or 3 (multiple meals), and students are allowed to use up to 14 points per weekly visit (up to four 1-point items, two 2-point items and two 3-point items).
Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai will have snack bars, packed saimin, cereal, pasta and sauces, canned goods and frozen meals, Rapoza said, and a microwave, hot water dispenser and toaster oven will be available for students to use.
The university also is working with Sodexo to provide a microwave in the Campus Center dining room and near the food kiosk at the library lanai for students to heat up meals.
“The food pantry will be funded and stocked through a mix of donations and by taking a small percentage of commissions from vending operations on campus,” Rapoza said.
For example, a portion of proceeds from a “Pop Up for Hunger” event at the end of March supported Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai, as will proceeds from such events in the future.
Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai is located in Room 101 of Portable Building 22, just mauka of Pu‘uli‘i, the newly renovated outdoor basketball court, and makai of the Student Life Center.
Additional soft opening dates are scheduled throughout the remainder of the semester: 2-4 p.m. today (April 18) and April 22, 24, 26 and 30 and May 2. Organizers said a little less than 30 students showed up during the Tuesday opening.
“We stated that it is a one-year pilot project, so the campus community is aware that the pantry concept is evolving,” Rapoza said. “We know that adjustments will need to occur based on feedback from students that we get during this soft opening and once we open up again in the fall. I believe we have created a sustainable model, and hope that Hale Pa‘i ‘Ai will continue beyond next year so we can better serve students with food insecurity.”
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