Food insecurity among college students has gained recognition in recent years as a significant problem, and research shows it has only become worse since the pandemic began a year ago.

When students are hungry and unsure of where their next meal will come from they can struggle academically. That’s tragic for many reasons, including because a college education can lead to careers that create long-term food security for graduates and their families. To have an immediate hunger crisis derail that journey is something we need to prevent. At Hawaiʻi CC, we are committed to helping students overcome food insecurity. We recognize that physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food is necessary for students while learning at our campus. Let me describe two such programs tailored to prevent hunger for our students.

On-Campus Food Distribution

Hawai‘i CC Associate Professor of Social Sciences Claudia Wilcox-Boucher saw this problem years earlier than most and took action with grass-roots on-campus food distribution. Her initiative started informally in 2010 with student service projects related to the human services and social science classes she teaches.

In 2016, she started partnering with student government, and now a hui of faculty, staff, alumni, and students lead a robust program of monthly food distributions at the Manono campus in Hilo, the Palamanui campus in Kona, and at the UH Hilo campus where many of our students are based. With partners like the Food Basket, Hawaiʻi CC is able to serve 100 – 140 members of our Kauhale a month with about 350 – 400 total people served when you include household members, thereby providing emergency food to students who at times experience food insecurity.

HINET

The HINET Ho’ōla ‘Ike program, which stands for Hawaii Nutrition, Employment and Training, is a federal employment and training program that the seven University of Hawai‘i Community Colleges operate in partnership with the State of Hawai‘i Department of Human Services.

HINET has helped students in workforce training programs become eligible for SNAP. HINET participants may be eligible even if they are not working or not receiving financial aid. SNAP recipients will receive full benefits during the pandemic.

HINET also provides reimbursements for other expenses such as books, tools, supplies, transportation and internet. Students may save over $5,300 per year through HINET.

This is especially beneficial to students in programs like Nursing and Carpentry, which are time consuming and rigorous and leave little time for outside jobs.

Interest in HINET is shooting up as the program continues to grow. Over a recent two-month period the program helped students access over $7,000 in SNAP food support.

HINET seeks to help students access Ho’ōla ‘Ike or “gift of knowledge” by offering supports that will help them complete college, an important step in getting students to stable employment and long-term security.

For more information about HINET, contact our program  coordinator Craig Mitchell at [email protected]

Other Efforts

In addition to the above, Hawai‘i CC, UH and our partners have responded to the pandemic crisis with the UH Emergency Relief Fund; the Kākoʻo Student Emergency Aid Fund; and distribution of federal CARES money directly to students, which have supported basic needs for students, such as food.

A few weeks ago, UH announced a new Student Basic Needs website that aims to connect students with local resources, and we are in the midst of The Hawaiʻi Foodbank Annual State Employees Food Drive.

In addition, earlier this semester our campus raised $2,000 and donated it to the Food Basket through our Walking Challenge.

The pandemic will pass, but we need to remain focused on ensuring students’ basic needs are met so they can graduate and build the stable lives, families and communities we all want.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas