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Palama Settlement program guarantees dinner for area children

                                Leo Gonzalez and his mother, Tina Gonzalez, pick up dinner at Palama Settlement.


    Leo Gonzalez and his mother, Tina Gonzalez, pick up dinner at Palama Settlement.

Leah Lee tells the story of a mother whose cupboard was bare until she received a distribution from the Palama Settlement emergency food pantry. “She only had one egg at home and cooked it and cut it in half to share with her daughter.”

It’s a sad truth that many children in the Kalihi-Palama area have nothing to eat at dinnertime, said Lee, a coordinator for the nonprofit social service agency. “There’s no food for them at home.”

The staff had heard kids talk about missing supper, and that was verified in a survey Palama conducted to determine nutritional needs in the area, Lee added. “We know that a lot of our participants, the kids who come to Palama in our after-school or athletic programs, sometimes they don’t eat dinner.”

So last week Palama became the first site on Oahu to serve free grab-and-go suppers specifically for children.

The agency had been serving free lunches to keiki and youth under 18, a service that began March 30. With schools closed, the Palama staff knew the youngsters would miss that daily meal, as up to 75% come from low-income families and qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

But when nearby Likelike and Kauluwela elementary schools decided to start breakfast and lunch service in mid-April, Palama opted to switch its meals to dinner, so now children in the area have access to three balanced meals each day, Lee said.

Since dinner service began April 13, an average 100 meals have been served each weekday. On Fridays, sandwiches are also handed out, to eat over the weekend.

The suppers are prepared by Kapi­olani Community College’s culinary arts program, including teriyaki chicken stir-fry, Swedish meatballs and sweet-sour pork, all served with hapa rice, mixed vegetables, fruit and milk.

The meals are picked up by the Palama staff, reheated in its commercial kitchen, and plated just before distribution. Through the college’s relationship with Meadow Gold Hawaii, yogurt and juice have been donated to supplement each meal.

The state Department of Education provides funding; other partners include Aloha Harvest, Hawaii Appleseed and Hawaii Child Nutrition Programs.

Palama’s emergency food pantry — bolstered by cash gifts and donations of food — has also provided fruit and flats of eggs to families picking up the suppers, Lee said.

“We are just really grateful for the community coming together; we’ve been pretty overwhelmed by the generosity of local businesses, from individuals and foundations … to sustain us through this time. I know it’s been a really difficult time for everyone, but it’s just very encouraging the generosity we’ve been seeing.”

Dinner service at Palama Settlement, 810 N. Vineyard Blvd., runs 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Parents may pick up meals in a drive-thru or on foot. To make a donation call 845-3945.

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