Kona Charter School Feeds Community

When the only federally-certified food vendor in West Hawai‘i closed down, putting area residents at risk for hunger, a Kona charter school stepped forward to serve.

Kona Pacific Public Charter School (Kona Pacific) in Kealakekua has taken on the challenge of providing a critical community service – feeding impoverished and disadvantaged West Hawai‘i residents. The school’s innovative new program, which has gained statewide attention, offers delicious meals prepared with healthy whole foods and totally free of refined grains or sugars.

WHOLE Food Service lunch serves up smiles at Kona Pacific Public Charter School.

WHOLE Food Service lunch serves up smiles at Kona Pacific Public Charter School

The new program was inspired by an unexpected urgent need in West Hawai‘i.

In late September 2012, Kona Pacific and other community support organizations in West Hawai‘i received a letter from the Hawai‘i County Equal Opportunity Council (HCEOC) stating that HCEOC was ceasing operations as of October 26. The abrupt termination of the HCEOC’s food service, the only federally approved nutrition program for West Hawai‘i, created a significant crisis for the 200 residents dependent on HCEOC for a substantial portion of their day’s nutrition.

These residents included disadvantaged students enrolled at Kona Pacific and other area schools, low-income elderly citizens served by Meals on Wheels and other programs, and young children served by Head Start and Early Head Start.

Without a nutrition program, all of these residents – primarily children and elderly, were suddenly at risk of food insecurity and the resultant health problems and academic challenges.

The administration at Kona Pacific responded by taking over the program in its entirety. With an expedited timeline of only 10 days, the school, with assistance from food service consultant Carleton Gillenwater, had the new program up and running.

“We couldn’t let these most vulnerable members of our community, impoverished children and elders, go hungry,” says Chris Hecht, the executive director of Kona Pacific. “So we took on this program, with a pledge to make it better, healthier and more responsive to the needs of our community.”

The new program, WHOLE (West Hawai‘i Ono Local Eats) Food Service, utilizes some components of the former HCEOC operation, including leasing the same kitchen facilities and hiring existing staff members that bring years of experience, USDA training and certification, and willingness to serve the community.

In addition to those resources, Gillenwater, who serves as a key project consultant, has 24 years of experience – most recently with Crestwood Behavioral Health, where he established a sustainable high quality whole food program for people with severe mental illness

Kona Pacific, which offers a rigorous academic program inspired by Waldorf education and firmly rooted in the land and culture of Hawai‘i, is located on 40 acres of prime agricultural land mauka of Kona Community Hospital. This unique school site is also a major WHOLE Food Service resource, as Kona Pacific is currently developing a biodynamic farm that will be integrated with the food service program to ensure the program’s ongoing access to affordable and high-quality produce.

The WHOLE Food Service program utilizes the standards and regulations of the USDA National School Lunch Program, My Plate, and the Hawaii Department of Health to bring fresh local cuisine to school, health care facilities and community service organizations at a minimum price point.

“We’re also using a lot of creativity in the program to make our food fun,” says Gillenwater. Regular offerings include plate lunches, adobos and curries, tacos and enchiladas, Asian cuisine and vegetarian options.

The new program took on most of HCEOC’s existing clients, and is in the process of expanding the client base, in hopes of serving all of West Hawaii’s at-risk populations with high-quality fresh local food.

To schedule a nutritional presentation explaining the program for your students or clients, or if you are farmer seeking to become a program supplier, please contact:
Chris Hecht
WHOLE Food Service program coordinator
Kona Pacific Public Charter School

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