100 years

Strengthening Hawai‘i’s Communities
Stories of Impact

Full Color

Nurturing Body and Spirit for Low-Income Kona Families

Kona Kids Outreach
July 17, 2020

Kona Kids Outreach
Kona Kids Outreach
Kona Kids Outreach
Kona Kids Outreach

Before COVID-19 hit, Kona Kids Outreach (KKO) was focused on enrichment for kids and their families in low-income subsidized housing in Kona, with afterschool programs and mentoring. It was already important work; a large proportion of the families in the housing complexes served by KKO are Micronesian, an immigrant group in Hawai'i that experiences disproportionately high levels of health challenges, discrimination and homelessness.

But when the stay-at-home order came and schools closed, KKO founder and executive director Robb Boss realized that KKO’s work had to deepen. According to Boss, most residents of housing complexes that KKO serves either relied on public transport or were used to sharing cars for outings, rides, and Costco runs, all of which had to stop abruptly—and most, he says, also did not have devices or internet access, so were especially cut off from outside news and stimulation. Boss says that they even lost access to the immediate outdoors, when complex management barred groups from standing in public areas.

“The police department patrolled with their lights on, and let people know that if they were caught out,” says Boss, “they would be fined and possibly go to jail.” “It was extremely difficult for them to get what they needed,” he adds. And then people began to lose their jobs.

With a grant from the Hawai'i Island Strong Fund of the Hawai'i Community Foundation, KKO got to work. They partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island and Hope Services to make and deliver 150 to 200 hot meals every weekday to families at the complexes. Other partnerships yielded deliveries of fresh produce and chef-made soup, mask distribution, and laptops for high-school students who didn’t have access to computers.

KKO also organized school lunch runs, convoys of 15-person vans that bussed eight socially distanced children at a time to sites where they could pick up their free lunches in person, as required. On those runs, though, Boss noticed something unusual. Even though the kids were used to hopping onto KKO vans for outings—“hooting and hollering and having a good time”—on the school lunch runs, they were totally silent, says Boss; “They wouldn’t even say two words. They were scared to death.”

That’s when KKO started its activity challenge program, designed to engage children and help families who were living in cramped quarters come together around a project. For every challenge, volunteers assembled activity bags that contain all of the necessary supplies: one week it might be cooking-focused, the next might be dance, and the next t-shirt design, with paints and brushes.

When the stay-at-home order began, Alicia Ka‘ai worried about food security for herself and her two middle schoolers, until KKO stepped in with their meal delivery partnership five nights a week. The activity challenges have also been a time of togetherness for the whole family, she says: “We do them together, because even if they’re in middle school, you still want to stay involved. My daughter is just wanting to go back to her friends. My son wants to go outside and play basketball. But with [the activity challenges] and with the food, it helps so much to keep us busy in the house and not going crazy.”

Ka‘ai says their favorite so far has been the pizza challenge. “We’d never made pizza before. When they brought the dough and all of that, it was like, ‘Oh, wow!’”

So far, KKO has distributed more than 11,000 meals and more than 1,000 activity bags. That equals full bellies, family togetherness, and lots of hope.