The Keiki Care Packages Program

Picture of the Big Island of Hawaii

By: J. S.

At times it may feel that our individual choices and actions don’t make an impact in our community. But for five friends on the Big Island, the decision by each to contribute to their community has led to some big results. With 555 backpacks filled with essential supplies for homeless children, to be exact.

Homelessness on the islands is a very real issue. On the East side of the Big Island alone, there are currently an estimated 250 homeless youth. This group of friends, recently joined together, to provide essential items. Because items are now being donated the backpacks are being filled with much needed items. These items include hygiene care and non-perishable foods. All the backpacks are being distributed by Hui Malama in East Hawaii. 

It All Started With A Podcast

The idea to donate backpacks began when one of the friends started a podcast. The goal being wanting to talk to other people in his community. The more people interviewed by the friends on the podcast, started speaking about their desire to help solve different local problems. Some in the group shared a vision of helping the island’s homeless population. One with the specific vision of doing so by providing essentials in backpacks. From there, the friends created the Keiki Care Packages Program, to distribute backpacks filled with much needed items to youth who otherwise go without basic necessities such as slippers.

After deciding their mission, the friends partnered with a liaison from Hui Malama. A non-profit organization located in Puna that understands the needs of the homeless community. The biggest needs of the island’s homeless keiki included feminine care products. Everyday hygiene essentials like toothbrushes and soap, and non-perishable foods like saimin that could be eaten without cooking.

555 Backpacks Filled How?

From there, the group of friends took action, they started a Go Fund Me page. Then purchasing and gathering donations, and spreading word of the program across the island. As one friend described it, “we started hustling, posting and talking about [what we were doing], and the donations started coming in. The power of social media is a crazy thing, these five regular dudes put it out there and the community responded. The overwhelming response is unbelievable.”

The friends also started collecting items with their own money. Then individual people and businesses across the island stepped in to donate. A local dentist donated a huge number of toothbrushes, another company donated face masks. Two individuals gave sweatshirts. A mother and son fundraised and gave their proceeds to the program. The son even donated money he made selling his toys in order to buy essential items. Gifts from friends and family across the country came in as the friends continued to share their mission through social media. The backpack program is continuing to receive support and donations from across Hawaii and the mainland.

Getting the Backpacks to Youth in Need

Hui Malama is taking the backpacks and products to distribute to youth on the East Side of Hawaii Island, from Kea‘au to Ka‘u. Backpacks are being filled with items that meet the needs of different demographics and ages. Because of this each child receives a package tailored to his or her needs. There are currently 250 homeless kids in the area. It is believed, that there may be many more who are unaccounted for by formal programs.  The friends decided on donating a total of 555 filled backpacks. This is a number significant to one of the friends who operates the program. 

The program is also welcoming additional backpacks and donations, and every bit counts. Essential items and non-perishable foods such as ramen are welcome in any amount. For example, an inexpensive 12 pack of ramen can feed someone for a week at hardly any cost. For those businesses interested in donating can reach out to the group via email. You will be provided with a tax refund form for business donations.

Individuals in The Community Can Make a Difference

“There has been an overwhelming response from our community and what they’ve done so far has been absolutely amazing. We went from two dudes talking to other people getting involved. They starting to hear from others, who’d listened to the podcasts, and the response from there has been amazing,” said one of the friends. 

Because many of us don’t realize, that the people who make up the majority of homeless statistics are families trying to make it work but are living in a tent somewhere. It sometimes get misconstrued and many don’t realize that the real homeless issue goes very deep. It is easily overlooked. And in reality, homeless kids can be any age, with most ranging from elementary to high school. They are living with their parents in homelessness.

To learn more, interested parties can reach out to the Keiki Care Package Program. Email them at: keikicarepackages@gmail.com or check out the @thehardtellinnotknowinpodcast on Instagram.