The Bounty of Aloha

UH Hilo takes part in statewide food drive

News Editor and Photographer Nick Carrion

“One in every five people are affected by hunger in Hawaii, which is pretty staggering when you think about it.” - Maile Boggeln, Interim Campus & Community Service Coordinator

During the months of April and May, UH Hilo will be putting on its annual food drive, collecting money and non-perishable goods for the hungry for the Big Island community. The endeavor is part of a larger, collaborative effort, according to UH Hilo’s interim Campus & Community Service (CCS) coordinator, Maile Boggeln.

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“The food drive that we do here on campus is actually affiliated with a full state food drive that goes on statewide. We are affiliated with the UH system food drive, so it’s happening on all ten campuses simultaneously in the months of April and May, and each campus is able to pick the dates specifically that they would like to run their food drive,” Boggeln said. (Disclosure: Boggeln also serves as the advisor for the Board of Student Publications, which oversees Ke Kalahea.)

“So for us here at UH Hilo, our food drive will be running from April 12 to May 3. And that’s to incorporate not only Food Drive Day, which our Food Basket here on all of the islands recognizes on April 15, but also to ensure that we go a little bit later in the semester, like for students who are leaving housing. They can help donate the items that they may not be taking with them, and to ensure that we can get as much food as possible for the food bank here on island,” added Boggeln.

Anyone who has tried to organize events on campus will note how difficult it can sometimes be to put together even the smallest event, much less one that lasts for nearly a month. Add to that the extra challenges of working with two statewide organizations, and running a successful food drive may seem all the more daunting. Boggeln explains how teamwork and experience bring it all together.

“It’s actually a really great, coordinated effort. I forget exactly how long it’s been going on, but this is something that has been in place for quite a few years now. So they do have an idea of the best way to coordinate it. We do poli-conference (video chat) meetings for the outer islands to be able to attend meetings that are happening on Oahu,” Boggeln said.

“So it’s actually really well organized. And our campus is really lucky because the CCS office has a really great relationship with the Hawaii Island Food Bank here. We do other events and outreach with them, and we bring them on campus to provide SNAP benefit information, and do food donations at different periods during the year. So it’s really just an extension of some of the stuff that we already do, and it’s not really that hard to get organized,” Boggeln said.

To some, it seems that year after year, the food drive goes almost too smoothly. In fact, Boggeln believes that one of the biggest challenges is bringing a personal touch to the event, to differentiate it from years past.

“I think the hardest thing is figuring out how to be creative each year, and change it enough that we keep people’s interest, we keep them motivated to donate,” Boggeln explained.

So if charity tends to get a little monotonous, don’t worry. For this year’s food drive, Boggeln and her team have focused on new ways to keep the community excited.

“We’re adding more individual activities during that three-week period. So we’ll have a can stacking competition to get the students engaged, just to kind of raise awareness that the food drive is happening. Even if we don’t get donations at that period of time when we’re tabling, it gets people who are walking through the plaza or walking through the library lanai conscious that the food drive is happening right now,” Boggeln said.

CCS is also incorporating new technologies to reach out to students and faculty.

“We are also doing a social media campaign primarily on the UH Hilo app, where we’ll be giving out information about hunger in general, and how it affects people.”

This outreach is perhaps one of the most important goals of the food drive. Hawaii Food Basket’s website reports that in 2014, one in six people in America suffer from hunger. Boggeln somberly explains how we may see hunger in our communities and not even recognize it.

“It’s definitely a problem here in Hawai‘i. The Food Basket Headquarters, which is located in Honolulu, gave of some of the most current figures, which is that 287,000 people in the state of Hawaii are served by The Food Basket, and that they estimate that one in every five people are affected by hunger in Hawaii, which is pretty staggering when you think about it. And disproportionately, the elderly and children are more affected than any other community.”

She goes on to explain that the face of hunger is not always what we expect it to be. While it does affect the homeless and those in “strict poverty,” many people with jobs, homes, and families still struggle to put food on the table every day. In fact, this year’s food drive is making an effort to alleviate hunger in a group we are all familiar with: students.

“I’m actually an alumna of UH Hilo,” says Boggeln. “And I remember when I was here on campus at one point we did have a statistic on how many of our UH Hilo students were using the Food Basket services. I don’t know why the stopped keeping that statistic, but I remember that that was one of the reasons why I got super involved in the food drive when I was on campus as a student, because it was a pretty staggering number. I want to say it was in the 20 percent range, that UH Hilo students were actually receiving either SNAP benefits or directly receiving assistance from The Food Basket.”

Another common misconception about hunger is that simply having enough food is enough to alleviate it. But being improperly nourished can be just as harmful as being undernourished. Loading the hungry up with junk food is simply trading one problem for another, but Chelsea Takahashi, Delivery Programs Coordinator for The Food Basket in Hilo, has a plan for that.

“I run a specific program to get more fruits and vegetables out into the community. So I buy local produce from farmers and I sell it to customers who are low income,” she said.

Takahashi explains that it was this initiative that attracted her to The Food Basket in the first place.

“I have an agricultural background, and I knew that this wasn’t a typical food bank, and that they’re really focused on nutrition and making people healthy. It’s not just giving out free food. So the program that I run kind of balances out the food that we give out. It definitely pushes out more of the fresh fruits and vegetables. So that’s how I got into this work,” Takahashi said.

The issue of hunger presents a multitude of challenges, both for those suffering from it and those trying to alleviate it. But as Boggeln and Takahashi hope, statewide organizations like The Food Basket and the UH system will continue to do their best in ensuring a happier, healthier future for Hawai‘i.