Finding Honolulu’s Helpers: A Chef and A Retired Professor Help by Providing Free Meals for Hungry Students
When the pandemic shut down in-person classes at Windward Community College, folks there cooked up a practical and tasty way to reach out: making 4,100 free meals in the fall semester for students who could otherwise go hungry. And they’re doing it again this semester.
Daniel Swift—who holds a trio of titles: WCC chef, culinary instructor and workforce development coordinator—and the school’s culinary team prepare meals on campus at the ‘Uala Leaf Café. Donations cover the cost of prepaid meal cards for qualified students who pick up one meal a day or a week’s worth of lunches to take home.
Chancellor Ardis Eschenberg saw the opportunity to reach more students, kick-starting the Meals with a Mission concept with an $8,000 Hawai‘i Strong grant from the Hawai‘i Community Foundation. It wasn’t enough. When Eschenberg told retired WCC professor Jacquie Maly, 82, that the project needed more money, Maly wrote a check for another $8,000. Other donations made up the $20,000 needed to cover last semester.
What makes this more amazing is Maly herself. Sure, she taught biology, psychology and nutrition in WCC’s early years, but she retired 22 years ago. Still, she stayed involved and continued to volunteer for every public show at the Hōkūlani Imaginarium, the high-tech planetarium on the campus nestled against the Ko‘olau mountains. And after her generous fall donation for student meals, she gave another $10,000 this spring as a dollar-for-dollar match.
But she’s no billionaire: “I’m not a terribly wealthy person. I’m comfortably settled in. And it’s not that I have a lot of money. It’s just that I realize I am getting very old. And I know that I won’t outlive my nest egg. And so I’m dispersing it while I can enjoy having people enjoy it, and make use of it.”
The other driving force behind Meals with a Mission, longtime culinary instructor Swift, grew up in Boise, Idaho, knowing the value of a school meal. “We qualified for free lunch when I was going to school and I benefited from a similar program from middle school all the way through high school,” he says.
Every meal makes a difference. “It’s not just lunch. It helps you stay focused,” says student Alisha Kaluhiokalani, 42. “It’s a healthy meal, it’s convenient and you know that it’s made with love because it’s good.” The mother of five—she has a 2-year-old in on-campus child care and four older kids ranging from 19 to 23—works on campus and volunteers as a peer tutor. Kaluhiokalani expects to earn an associate degree in liberal arts this summer, then plans to transfer to UH Mānoa for a bachelor’s degree in social work. “I’m just truly grateful for all of their help. This is hard, this is scary.”
Swift and school officials credit the indomitable Maly: “I mean, we call her an angel,” Swift says. “We would not have a food service program that would work if Jacquie hadn’t stepped up and matched that funding.”
Find out more and how to help at uhfoundation.org/MealsWithAMission.