Each day after school, kids of all ages at the Boys &Girls Club of the Big Island’s flagship location in Hilo gather for piko and greet the different directions as a conch shell is blown.
CEO Chad Cabral said it’s a way for them to ground themselves and connect with each other as they spend the rest of their afternoon at the club’s after-school program.
But also important is what comes next.
Since 2017, each child, which can number between 80 to 100 each day, is fed a nutritious meal prepared by the older kids, which the club has found improves their behavior as they participate in other programs, whether it be homework help or recreation.
It also can be a big help for the families, many of whom struggle financially and may rely on free or reduced price meals at school. One in three children attending the club on Hawaii Island are in poverty, according to the organization.
“For some kids, they don’t go to school just for academics, they go to school to eat,” Cabral said. “So, they are going for breakfast and lunch.
“If lunch is served at 11:30, for some kids, they are not going to eat till the next day.”
The after-school program costs families only $10 a year, meals included.
The club began providing snacks to children after school at all of its six Hawaii Island locations in 2015. The Hilo location is the only one to provide hot meals, thanks to construction of a kitchen funded with federal grants passed through Hawaii County.
An estimated 28,000 meals have been served since 2017. The club hopes to significantly expand that by transporting meals to after-school programs in Pahoa and Keaau.
For the financially struggling organization, that means raising more funds.
Cabral said they are looking for donors to help the meals program grow.
Expenses are about $150,000 a year currently for Hilo.
“To serve 300 kids in East Hawaii — Keaau, Pahoa and Hilo — we’re looking at probably close to at least $250,000,” he said.
That also will require volunteers to transport the meals from Hilo.
The club lists 10 partners that help make the program happen.
That includes the Atherton Family Foundation, whose board includes Kohala Councilman Tim Richards.
He said he first learned about it while sitting on the council’s grants-in-aid committee.
“A lot of time, these kids, the best meals they get are at school,” Richards said.
He referenced one story told to him by Boys and Girls Club staff members.
“There was a kid, I was shocked, who wanted to save half of his snacks for his mother,” Richards said. “It just hits your heart strings.”
He said helping ensure kids get enough to eat will help solve other problems.
“If we can start getting nutrition to our kids, we are going to start solving the problems we don’t realize yet,” Richards said.
To contact the club or to donate, visit www.bgcbi.org.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald