The Hawaii Department of Education is adding three more school meal distribution sites to its regular rotation next week to meet rising demand during extended school closures due to coronavirus.

Starting Monday, Ka’ala Elementary and Kipapa Elementary on Oahu and Lokelani Elementary on Maui will serve free breakfast and lunch to kids 18 and under, bringing the number of school sites serving free meals to kids to 41 from 38.

On its first day of service on Monday, the DOE distributed roughly 3,000 meals statewide. By Day 2, that number had doubled (more school sites had also opened) and by the end of this week, DOE officials predict they could distribute well up to 10,000 meals.

A volunteer helps pass out free lunch at the Nuuanu YMCA through a community partnership.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The DOE may add additional school sites by the end of next week, according to Randy Tanaka, assistant superintendent for the DOE’s Office of Facilities and Operations.

“It all is determined by what level of participation we’re getting, what the concentration (of kids) is, whether schools meet federal mandates as far as subsidized program,” he said via phone Wednesday.

Tanaka acknowledged the shortage of meals at some sites, including McKinley High and at Waianae High earlier Wednesday. He said when that’s happened, cafeteria workers have instructed parents to go to the next nearby site.

Some of the locations are far apart from one another, particularly in more isolated areas.

Tanaka said by tracking the highest demand areas, the DOE will work to “rebalance the quantities at the school.”

“We’ll increase our counts. It’s a balancing we have to do,” he said.

Leftover meals haven’t been much of an issue. At Waianae High, for instance, cafeteria prep workers have been assembling meals on demand by gauging the number of cars waiting in line.

Though transportation is an issue for students living in more rural areas, there is no plan at this time to do meal delivery to students via school bus, Tanaka said, adding it may be more practical to look at renting a van or working with community partners to supplement service — something already in play.

There’s one other concern: a limited supply of takeout containers, since restaurants all over Hawaii that are still in operation but now in delivery-only or takeout mode are using such packaging for their own customers.

The DOE is revisiting its menu in light of a possible shortage of takeout containers, such as turning to burgers or sandwiches and veggie sticks that can be served in a brown bag.

Currently, the to-go DOE breakfast items include such hot foods like toast or sausage or rice and chicken strips or beef stew for lunch.

The DOE is extending school closures through at least April 30. The grab-and-go meals service will continue at least through that time. As with other school districts in the country, the service is an extension of the Seamless Summer Option, which is a federal program that keeps kids fed in the summer when school is in recess.

On a typical day, the Hawaii public school system reaches about 26,000 students with free or reduced-cost breakfast and about 65,000 kids with free or reduced-cost lunch, according to recent data from the Food Research & Action Center.

Here’s an updated list of all the school sites participating in the DOE grab-and-go meals service.

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