Last spring, Griffin Chen ’25 consumed pandemic-related news coverage about people losing jobs and struggling to feed their families. The eighth grader was especially concerned about students who relied on free school lunches but had to skip meals because they were learning from home. “That really shook me, and it didn’t seem like any of this was going to end any time soon,” Chen said. So, he started looking for ways to help.
Through research, he learned of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that could benefit people in Hawai‘i. As part of coronavirus relief efforts, the government made funds available for food distributors to purchase produce, meat and dairy from farmers, and donate the food to those in need. Because of restaurant, hotel and other closures, much of the food would otherwise be wasted.
With an uncle in the food distribution business, Chen saw the program as an opportunity to not just feed people in the Islands, but to help local farmers and food manufactures stay in business. He encouraged his uncle, who owns Ham Produce and Seafood, to work with the program and tap into USDA funds to purchase locally produced foods. The teenager then needed to figure out where it would go.
Initially, he thought of hosting a food drive at Punahou. But Punahou President Mike Latham ’86 suggested that he explore the wider community, which is how he found the Samoan Church of Hawai‘i in Nanakuli. Working out the logistics himself, Chen organized a food drive of 1,000 food boxes, and continues to arrange for the church to receive 500 boxes every other week.
Of course, there were hurdles along the way. “It’s hard to take an eighth grader seriously,” Chen said. But after countless hours of planning and preparations, seeing families pick up their boxes during the food drives filled him with such a sense of satisfaction, he decided to expand his efforts.
He now has turned his attention to helping public school students who receive free or reduced priced lunches. He’s arranged food drives at Nu‘uanu, Pauoa, Lincoln and Kauluwela elementary schools and Stevenson Middle School, distributing nearly 650 boxes of food, equivalent to 22,000 pounds of food, some of which was delivered to a family living in homeless shelter. One family told him their food stamps were gone and that they wouldn’t receive their next month of assistance for another week. He’s also recruited classmates to volunteer at the food drives, and volunteered at Punahou to help during the summer food distribution event for the School’s Clarence T.C. Ching PUEO Program. “Griffin is smart, kind and inquisitive, and he understands at a young age that you get by giving,” said Sarah Burke Man, his eighth grade English teacher.
Meanwhile, the middle schooler doesn’t know exactly where all this will lead, but he’s firmly committed to giving back to the community. “It’s something that I gain a lot from it,” he said. “It makes me feel better about myself knowing I can help these people, and I have that opportunity.”
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