Yesterday I heard the heart breaking story of elementary school children filling their pockets with food from lunch at school on Fridays. This is at a school where over 90% of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch, which means that the vast majority of the students attending the school are living in poverty. Mind you, these are elementary aged children who are trying to cope, as best they can, with hunger and the lack of food at home.
Stories like this break my heart. I do not want anyone to go hungry, and I certainly don't want children to go hungry. There should be enough food for all of our children.
Neighborhood Place of Puna does what it can. If the families are willing to enroll in our services we will help ensure that they have enough food. We will help them find resources, plan meals, and even work on budgeting. Unfortunately, sometimes the reality is that families do not have enough resources. You can't budget if there is no income. Food stamps are not enough on their own.
There are no easy answers. Neighborhood Place of Puna is working to expand its food pantry so that we can help more families, even the ones who are not willing to enroll in services at this time. It is not ideal, but hunger is hunger, and we refuse to turn the hungry away.
In the last few years, most of the public food pantries in lower Puna have closed down or cut back their services. Running a food pantry is hard work and requires a dedicated group of volunteers. A food pantry requires space to house the food and people to distribute it, hopefully with love and compassion. Most importantly, someone needs to be responsible for collecting and buying the food, coordinating volunteers, dealing with problems, and tracking donations and expenses, and filling out the paperwork that is involved if one receives government subsidized food or grant funding. Like I said, hard work.
Given the continued cuts in spending to help the poor and vulnerable, many non-profits are having to make hard choices. There is just less staff to do the work, so programs, like food panties, get cut. Churches, which used to be the mainstay of local food panties, are seeing their congregations shrink and age. They no longer have the resources, human or economic, to keep longstanding feeding programs going.
This year, Neighborhood Place of Puna is a position to try to help. We will need support and volunteers. However, we all need to ask ourselves if childhood hunger, in our very own neighborhoods, is acceptable? If not, we then need to ask the really hard question, “How can I help?”
Paul Normann, Executive Director
Neighborhood Place of Puna