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Hawaii’s Food Security Collaboration for Military Families

July 1, 2023 @ 7:00 am - 1:30 pm CDT

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About This Episode

(Season 4, Episode 6)

The Food Security Hawaii Working Group is an amazing cross-sector collaboration to address food security issues military families are facing, In this episode, Bob Bertsch talks with Arletta Eldridge Thompson, Health Promotion Coordinator for the 15th Medical Group for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam;  Lorna Souza with the Hawaii Air National Guard Airman and Family Readiness Program; and Kina Mahi, Director of Advocacy and Strategic Partnerships for the Hawaii Foodbank about the challenges families in Hawaii are dealing with and how people are collaborating to address them.


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Kalin Goble: Welcome to Practicing Connection, a podcast exploring the personal stories and collective practices that empower us to work together to improve our resilience and readiness in a rapidly changing world. Here to start the conversation are Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch.

Bob Bertsch: Hi, and welcome to the Practicing Connection podcast. I’m Bob Bertsch. I am really excited for this episode. We’re going to be talking about an incredible collaboration to address food insecurity among military families in Hawaii. Unfortunately, Jessica won’t be here for this conversation, but I do want to acknowledge all the work that she did to make this conversation happen. Thanks so much, Jess. Wish you were here.

This year, our team at OneOp has been focusing on food security for military families. In the process of preparing for OneOp’s 2023 Military Family Readiness Academy, called Military Families and Food Security: A Call to Action, one of our colleagues, Molly Herndon, learned about the work our guests today are doing in Hawaii. When Molly passed this information on to Jessica and me, we knew we had to find a way to get these folks on the podcast. After many emails, a couple of video calls, at least one approval process, maybe more, one that I know about, I’m really happy to welcome our guests, Kina Mahi, Lorna Souza, and Arletta Eldridge Thompson, to the Practicing Connection podcast.

Welcome, everyone. I think we’ll start with some introductions. Arletta, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Arletta Eldridge Thompson: Hi. Thanks for inviting us. We’re really excited to be here. I’m Arletta Eldridge Thompson. I’m the Health Promotion Coordinator for the 15th Medical Group for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam is a joint base with Navy/Air Force. We represent the Air Force side. I’ve been working for the Air Force for about 27 years, and this is my sixth installation to work for. I’m really excited that this is taking off like it has.

Bob: Thanks, Arletta. Lorna, could you share a little bit about yourself with our listeners?

Lorna Souza: Sure. Aloha, and mahalo for having us. My name is Lorna Souza. I am actually with the Hawaii Air National Guard Airman and Family Readiness Program. We are also located on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Hawaii, at least the main part of our Hawaii Air National Guard, so that’s why we’re part of this community. Then we also have GSUs, or Geographically Separated Units, on three of the other islands, so the island of Kauai. Also, the Hawaii Island, which is our Big Island, we have a unit there. Then Maui, so we also have a unit on Maui.

Yes, here to support any way we can and take care of our airmen. Mahalo.

Bob: Thank you, Lorna. Kina, could you introduce yourself?

Kina Mahi: Aloha. My name is Kina Mahi. Thank you so much for having us today. I’m the Director of Advocacy and Strategic Partnerships for the Hawaii Foodbank. The Hawaii Foodbank has been fighting hunger and food insecurity in Hawaii for 40 years. We’ve been lucky enough in the last year to join up with this food insecurity working group with Arletta and Lorna and several others because we believe nobody should go to bed hungry, but we also are really dedicated in ensuring our military personnel who are serving don’t have to struggle with basic fundamental rights like food, and we mean healthy food too. Mahalo.

Bob: I’m going to ask you to share with us again, because before we jump into the working group and the incredible collaboration that’s going on, I think it’s really important, when we talked earlier a couple of months ago, that we set the context a little bit for food systems and food security in Hawaii. Because it is such a special place and might have some unique benefits, challenges, just characteristics that we wouldn’t see here in the continental United States.

Kina, can you maybe start that conversation for us? What makes the food system in Hawaii so unique?

Kina: Sure. Well, at any given time, the island of Oahu has less than a week of food supply on it. 80% to 90%, depending on who you ask, of the food that we all consume is imported. At one time, our island sustained a population of a million people just within the sustainable cultivation of our āina, which is our land here. Now we have a really different food system, and as I’m sure you’ve all seen at the grocery store, wherever you are, prices have continued to go up and up and up.

We have this unique challenge of being the most isolated land mass on the planet and relying on boats that bring us our food. We have so much potential to rely more on our land to provide our food, but that’s a longer conversation. We also know how when people are moving here to serve, or when they’re assigned here, it’s a big shift to see the prices that are here compared to prices elsewhere. It’s not just on a macro level we have some food system challenges, but also on the individual family level when you’re making that adjustment, it can be really hard.

Arletta: I can say on the active duty side that it is a shock when they come here because they expect everything to be the same as it was on the mainland, and then when they transfer over here, they’re totally unprepared. One of the things that we did with our working group is figure out ways to prepare them ahead of time in trying to get them to understand that they need a financial appointment before they leave and that they can figure out what their finances are before they leave, then also start paying off as many bills as they can and start stockpiling a savings account. Because once they get here, trying to do a savings account is really difficult because it’s so expensive, and they’re going to have to rely on that because there’s a honeymoon period of about six to nine months.

Because the first thing is once they get the assignment, it’s like, oh my gosh, it’s the best assignment in the Air Force, or whatever military branch, and they don’t realize that once they get here, it’s not what they thought. I try to tell people early on, I’m like, okay, here’s what you need to think about. There are two Hawaiis. There’s tourism Hawaii that they’ve been marketed to and the beauty and all that sort of stuff, but then there’s the reality of living in Hawaii, which is the other Hawaii.

That’s what I’m trying to prepare them because they don’t have a choice. Once they get here, they can’t leave. I mean, a spouse can leave. They can send their spouse back to the mainland or their children back to the mainland, but that active duty or even that Guard member, they can’t leave. They’re here. We have to prepare them the best we can for the environment that they’re living in. Hopefully, some of the best practices that we come up with can be utilized on the mainland, or also prepping a member to go overseas.

Bob: Lorna, what kinds of challenges are your airmen facing and their families facing in the Hawaii Air National Guard regarding food security?

Lorna: Yes, so it’s the same thing for our members. It is very expensive to live here. Cost of living is high. People are leaving constantly, getting priced out of paradise and actually going to the mainland. Our local youth are starting to go to college there. Of course, they end up staying there and not coming home, and then before you know it, the parents are following them. A lot of our local people can’t afford to live here, so they’re moving to the mainland, which you called continental United States. [chuckles]

Yes, cost of living is very high here in Hawaii. We have multiple families living in one house, so we have grandparents, parents, and children. Of course, grandparents are watching the grandchildren, and then the parents are going to work. I also noticed in the last few years, we had a paradigm shift where actually now our parents are caring for our grandparents, our elderly. Not only the stress and struggles of living in Hawaii or in the paradise that we have here, but they can’t afford certain things, and food is one of them.

Anything that we can do for our families, if we can help them with the food, and then they can pay for the medical bills, they can pay for the medication that they need for their grandparents, or we call them kūpuna, it’s going to help.

Arletta: I want to hop in and piggyback off of what Lorna said. Not only are they living two- well, three, maybe four generations in a house, most everybody in the house has at least two jobs. When you’re looking at the Hawaii Air National Guard, they have their normal regular job and then a part-time job, and then the National Guard on top of that.

Bob: Yes. It sounds like very challenging context for our families to be dealing with, but the working group that you guys put together to start to address that kind of stuff, how did that all begin, Arletta? Where did this idea even spring out of and how did you get it started?

Arletta: Gosh, this was way back before the pandemic, October of 2019. Airman and Family Readiness on the Hickam active duty side noticed that– It was started with Drew [unintelligible 00:11:00]. He noticed that when people were coming in for the Air Force Aid Society, those are emergency loans and grants that people can apply for if they need money for certain things. Usually it’s a car repair or something to that effect. One of the things that he noticed when people were coming in to ask for those loans and grants was they were needing sustenance, they were needing food. Instead of asking for the grant or the loan, which I think they can only get maybe one time or it’s a limited time, he opened up a cabinet with two doors and it was a food pantry. That’s how we started.

Then once we had that food pantry, I hopped on board to help him advertise it because as a health promotion coordinator, I know that if you can get people to donate healthier items, that’ll change their diet. Then not long after that, the chaplains over at the Hawaii Air National Guard opened up the Pono Pantry. Pono in Hawaii means balance. They started theirs. It was a little shed out in their parking lot, [chuckles] and they left it open 24/7 so people could go in and get what they needed. That’s how our food pantry system opened up.

Then when we were moving forward, but Jayme Alexander, she took over the Flight Chief position at the Airman and Family Readiness Center, and she noticed the same thing Drew did, only she expanded it by like 1,600%. Instead of one cabinet; ended up being four. She noticed that there was an extreme need. This was during the pandemic, so that’s when she expanded it. Well, the working group happened because our wing commander’s wife at the time– We had expanded to the Airman’s Attic, and the Airman’s Attic is like a thrift store, it’s like a free thrift store. They noticed that people were coming in for clothing and things like that, so they set up a little cabinet at the Airman’s Attic.

The wing commander’s wife, who’s the head person over on the Air Force side, she noticed that people were taking a lot of food items from the Airman’s Attic, so she approached me and wanted healthier items. One of the things I had mentioned to her was, once you reach to the point of you’re getting food at a food pantry, healthier items are not on your list of to do. I mean, you’re just wanting to survive. That would fall to us to provide those healthier options so that they could have those. That’s how the working group started was I said, what we need is to get together as a group and be able to create that type of environment. That’s how the working group started.

It’s changed its name three times now. It was the Team Hickam Food Insecurity Working Group. Then I believe it was Laura Kay from the Hawaii Foodbank had said that we are in a unique situation on Oahu as that we have all four services plus the Coast Guard on this island. It was then that I was like, you know what? We can’t just say this is just an Air Force thing. We opened it up to all services, and we have representatives from all services that attend this working group. Recently, we just changed the name again to the Food Insecurity Working Group Hawaii because now we cover the whole state of Hawaii because as Lorna said, we have assets on outer islands and we are actually servicing those assets, so it made sense to change the name again.

How we ended up being kind of multi-service. In August of last year, I had a phone call from USARPAC, which is US Army Pacific. They asked me if I was doing anything on the food insecurity side. I’m like, well, yes. The more we got the talk, they have a– General Flynn is very, very interested in food insecurity, and so they piggyback off of us. They ended up attending the working group, back when we were Team Hickam, and now they’re like very staunch at showing up every meeting, they give a lot of input. Not only is our working group dealing with things that happen in Hawaii, but also across the Pacific we’re having impact. That’s exciting as well.

Bob: Kina, how did Hawaii Foodbank get involved?

Kina: Hawaii Foodbank has been partnering with the Armed Services YMCA for several years now. Hawaii Foodbank– The way food banks work is like a funnel. The food comes into us from retail donations from the Safeways and the Costcos in our community who have excess, and also from USDA commodities, and then also from our community member donations. We do purchase food as well, especially we like to prioritize from our local farmers and producers. The food funnels in, and then we funnel it out through a network of community partners like ASYMCA. We have three sites.

Arletta mentioned it, and I mentioned it, we really like to focus on healthy food. The number one thing people are asking for is fresh produce. That is the thing that is not affordable, that is the thing that goes away when a family is struggling. That’s the stories we hear. We partner with ASYMCA in three different locations at three different bases to do monthly distributions where we really focus on produce. We bring, and we will bring the– We have the refrigeration at the food bank, so we come out and can do a bigger distribution at a time.

We would like to do more. There’s always more to be done. I think this is where we like to partner with very creative folks like Arletta, who’s thinking about community gardens. A community garden or a family garden may never meet all of your produce and vegetable needs, but if we can start to- in addition to what we bring on a monthly or a biweekly basis from the food bank, if we can start to change mindsets and build skills and understand how we can also go back to some of the values that sustains a population here at one time, if we can go back to some of those values and practices, we do think it also makes a difference for people.

Bob: Yes, it’s really great to hear some of the systems approach to preventing food insecurity, and awesome that you guys are working on that. Lorna, what kinds of other things is the working group working on? [chuckles] The working group working on. What’s typical of a meeting of what kind of conversations come up?

Lorna: Well, I think the nice thing about this working group, it’s various organizations that are coming together, not only military. We work with the community so much, and everybody brings their little piece of what they’re doing, what’s coming up in the future, the programs that are available for our members or for our service members. That really brings us together and helps us. Then if we have an issue, we work together on how to resolve it, or how to take care of just little items that might be challenges we might be facing.

It’s a great way to come together and see what’s out there to bring these resources to our members. It’s a really giving group of people too. Arletta said about pono. Pono means righteousness and balance and doing what’s right. That’s exactly what this team does, is we’re just trying to make sure that everybody gets the information and gets the resources that they need so that they can have a better experience here in Hawaii.

Also too, what we do is we have some volunteer experiences for our members. Not everybody’s having struggles with food, but they want to help out, so we do have volunteer opportunities with the food bank. We do that monthly. Then also, we go up to a farm, Waihe’e farm. We actually go there and clean up the farm, make sure that we help them with their taro or kalo, which actually turns into poi. If you’ve been to Hawaii, you might have had some poi. That’s the root that you make poi from. It’s a big industry here and very expensive, so any way we can help to cultivate the taro or the kalo.

We go out there, and we help them with their farm and better their progress of growing this product. Then also, other products they have. They have watercress there. They have ‘ulu, which is breadfruit, and different other local fruits that we can distribute to our community.

Arletta: Actually, the reason that’s important is because if you look at the bigger picture, and this is one of the things that you have to give Hawaii credit for, is they’re trying to go back to the sustainability that they had before modern times. That’s how they sustain themselves. It also gives a hands-on view to everybody on where their food comes from. They could very easily be repeated at farm– You see these sorts of things on farms on the mainland, people going and volunteering and helping. I had a friend of mine in Missouri that just volunteered to help pick a farm that creates her CSA, her community support box that she gets. That food, because it was extra, went back to the food bank.

These are things that we can promote having people understand where their food comes from, and you’re able to have a hands-on. Hawaii just happens to be unique in the fact that it’s part of their underlying culture. We care about the āina, or the land, and so that’s something that’s really important.

Lorna: Yes. Actually, we started going to the Waihe’e farm because after COVID, they lost so many sales that they were thinking of shutting down. We got a group of volunteers together and simple things like taking the weeds out of the taro patch or the kalo patch, and just making sure that the water is flowing from the– The water is wai, so the wai is flowing from the streams, taking the weeds out of that in the streams and making sure that everything is flowing correctly. We’re able to clean up their taro patches and production has been better.

Just little things of getting people together to help out these farmers so that they can produce. It’s going to, of course, drizzle down to us and we’re going to end up getting the benefits of it. Poi, which is made from kalo, is very expensive and it’s because the lack of the product, the kalo. This way, we can actually help them and in turn, we’re helping ourselves because of reduction of price for poi, which is one of our staples.

Bob: That’s awesome. I think it’s really great to build that connection back to where your food comes from. It sounds like there’s a lot of great stuff happening and great communication happening. I’m just wondering if, when the working group was either being formed, or where you were trying to get your feet, were there challenges or barriers that you guys encountered in trying to get this set up and to get everybody at the table?

Arletta: I know for me, the big challenges was trying to get– It’s one thing to have a working group and to be able to move forward, but when you look at the big picture on the military side of the house, you have to have leadership involved. You have to have leadership understand that this is an issue. When you look at the big picture, both on the active duty side, and the Guard, and Reserve side, and the Secretary of Defense said it, food insecurity is a readiness issue.

When we look at the overall picture, if you have a military member that can’t afford or doesn’t have the resources to sustain themselves, then that puts them at risk for, A, not doing their job; B, worrying about their family; C, becoming a security risk because they become a possible target for our adversaries to offer them money for food. That’s not something that we want. We can’t tolerate that. That’s a no go. The thing for me was trying to get leadership to understand. I am partly there. Not everybody–

The first thing, and I heard this a lot, is, “Well, you make good money. I don’t understand how you are having trouble.” What we found early on was you can be food insecure at any rank. All it takes is one major life event to knock you off the fence. You can have a Lieutenant Colonel seeking food at a food pantry. This isn’t something that is just low-ranking airmen with a lot of kids, although it is a lot of that. It’s across the board, and getting leadership to understand that this stuff has been lurking in your ranks for decades.

This is not a new problem. This is something, yes, the pandemic probably aggravated a little bit, but when I first started doing research on it– The reason I started doing research was because Major Kevin Watanabe, the IMA to the PACAF, Pacific Air Force’s nutrition consultant, couldn’t go to his base in Alaska during the pandemic, so he dropped in my lap. I had him for a month, and I ask him to give me ideas for nutrition, because nutrition falls to me, I am not a dietitian, he is, and to give me nutrition ideas.

The garden was the first idea, and we’ve been sustaining that garden since October of 2020. The second or the last idea that he gave me right before he left was, “Check into SNAP and WIC. You may be looking at only low-ranking airmen with a lot of kids,” so I did. What I found out was this is like the military’s dirty little secret. It’s been happening for years. Nobody’s really been talking about it. That’s how we evolved into where we’re at is once I figured out the issue, then it’s my responsibility, because it’s readiness issue, is to bring it to leadership’s attention. Once leadership gets an idea that this is an issue, then we can move forward, and we can actually do a little bit more than what we can just by ourselves.

My medical group commander, who is in charge of our clinic, she was the first one I got on board. Then she said, I want this brief to all the group commanders, and so we were able to take that forward. We still have a lot of work to do because we only targeted a small group of our commanders. The goal is to get them all to understand. Once everybody’s on board and everybody’s aware of it, they can see those pockets where they can actually make a difference and things they can do.

That’s the big thing with leadership is you have to give them action items, things they can do that is realistic, in their wheelhouse. You can’t give them the overarching thing and say, “This is our problem,” and give them nothing to do. They operate by, “Give me the reason, tell me what’s going on, and then give me something to do.” Right now that’s probably the biggest challenge is being able to get leadership to understand. We’re getting there. It’s not perfect, but we’re a lot further than we were two years ago.

I think that with the Secretary of Defense highlighting this, that it’s made it easier for more commanders to understand. We’re seeing that on the USARPAC side, the US Army Pacific side, is they have a senior leader that’s highly engaged. I think that they can make a lot of difference just at that big level.

Bob: Lorna, did you see similar things in terms of having to get buy-in from leadership on your side of things?

Lorna: The Pono Pantry was actually started by the chaplain program during the COVID situation here in Hawaii, the pandemic. The chaplains put everything into motion. They got approval and everything. I was not part of that, but I’m telling you, with our leadership at the Hawaii Air National Guard, we have no resistance there. They all would continuously ask if we need any products in the Pono Pantry. Obviously, we have different needs on the Hawaii Air National Guard side. Rice, SPAM [unintelligible 00:30:03] diapers, stuff like that that we need, and it just flies out of our pantry, but the leadership continuously supports the program.

One thing that we do find is a challenge is having the members come out. That’s why we have it where it’s anonymous. You can come at any time. We do have hours to the open facility, but we can coordinate with them. They can come in the evening or early morning, and we’ll have the products available for them. Then we also work very closely with our first sergeants, and we have them out and about, finding out where the needs are and then trying to fulfill those needs by providing them the food source.

In the future, this– We just started hurricane season and preparedness is a big part of hurricane season. We’re making sure that we have enough supplies in there, and we’re going to, hopefully, put together some bags of starter sets with maybe a few food items, some toiletries. We just got a big donation of toiletries, so toiletries in there, and just get them started.

Arletta: Yes, Lorna brings up a really good point. I think the big piece of this that everybody misses is the disaster piece. There are two emergencies. One is the individual person’s emergency and getting a crisis, and then your goal is to get them stabilized and then help move them forward. The piece that I don’t think we’re talking about enough is the mass disaster piece. For us, it could be a hurricane. We just went through the Red Hill water crisis where we had some fuel tanks leak into the water system, and that threw us off. We learned a lot during that water crisis as to what’s going to happen during an emergency.

See, for our members, and even Lorna’s airmen during an emergency, those members have to keep on working. It’s not like they can stop and take care of their family. The mission goes on, so you have to prep them ahead of time so that they can weather that disaster. We learned a lot of lessons during the Red Hill water crisis in the fact that we’re not as ready as we could be. That’s one of the big things that our working group has actually been looking at on a big scale is, how can we prepare members for an emergency?

One of the things that you’re told when you get here is to have two weeks’ worth of food stockpiled so that in case of emergency, you can fall back on that because 90% of the food is imported here. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single person that’s probably as prepared as they should be. That’s one of the things that we’ve been talking about. Maybe somehow educating members to prepare their kit before they leave the mainland. That way, the government will move it here, it will be in place, and they don’t have to worry about the expense once they get here.

That’s in the infancy stage, but that disaster preparedness is a huge thing. Because in a disaster, the goal is- we’re not there yet, but the goal is for the active duty or even the military in general, Guard, Reserve, to take the pressure off of the Hawaii Foodbank because in a disaster, their people are the people of Hawaii. If we can somehow self-contain and prepare those members to be able to be self-contained and to move on with their mission and not have to worry about going out and getting food, we take that pressure off of the Hawaii Foodbank and they can concentrate on the other people in Hawaii. We’re not there yet, but that’s one of our ultimate goals.

Bob: Kina, can you talk about that a little bit? I think there’s a couple things that are really striking me. Just this idea of being here on the mainland, we have the same risks, potentially, of- not the same, but similar risks of disaster and being prepared for that, but it’s such a different ask for me to be prepared and have that food in the pantry for two weeks or longer, or whatever, than it is for the people of Hawaii.

The other thing I’m interested in your comment on is just what Arletta just brought up, about this relationship between Hawaii Foodbank serving the people of Hawaii, but knowing that our military families are in need and how that gets discussed and balanced out for you guys.

Kina: Yes, those are two really big, really good questions. Let me start with the disaster piece first. If we look at what’s in our warehouse, and if we think about having to have enough food for everybody on Oahu in the event of a massive disaster, it’s a day, maybe. It’s not enough. We are talking with our Department of Emergency Management at the county level, and with our Hawaii Emergency Management at the state level. There’s a lot that we can do, both systematically and individually, to be prepared.

We have an internal plan that we’re working on at the food bank. A big part of our plan is also working with the agencies, with the ASYMCAs and with the other 200 agency partners who run food pantries and soup kitchens to make sure that they have some stockpiles, that they’re strategically placed around the island, what we’re calling precovery pods, with MREs in them, so in the event that Waianae is cut off from– Farrington Highway that goes out to Waianae often gets cut off for a car accident, let alone a disaster. That there are places that are going to be hard to reach that have at least some level of preparedness.

I think one of the things we talk about a lot is how much– If you look at the narrative, like have your emergency preparedness kit done, you might get a flyer in the mail. So much of the messaging falls on the individual person or the individual family to get prepared, but we also have to be prepared as a community and as a state. These are the conversations, I think, we’re having in the working group, how we do that. How we both encourage at the individual level, but also when a disaster strikes we’re all in it together, so how we make sure that it’s the communications and the infrastructure that’s in place to do that.

We don’t have the answers, it’s a work in progress, but it is one of the key pillars, key priorities that we’re working at, at Hawaii Foodbank. Because it’s a when. It’s not an if, and we all know that. COVID was its own disaster of sorts that we learned a lot from. I think we’re trying to apply some of those lessons- not lose those lessons and apply them to thinking about natural and weather-related disasters that we’ll hit.

On the second question, it’s a bigger and harder question around the relationship with the military in Hawaii. I’m not speaking out of turn to say it’s a complex– We are in occupied territory that was controlled by our Indigenous population, and that’s a complex relationship. On the other hand, it’s not either or. I have Hawaiian family who served in the military. Hawaiians have a history of military service back to Kalākaua’s days. It’s Hawaiian people who are serving in the Air National Guard, right, Lorna?

I think we, Hawaii Foodbank, try to get past the either/or, us/them narrative, and nobody should go to bed hungry. You can say, especially kids, especially kūpuna, elders, especially people serving our country, but it’s actually, especially no one. I think that it’s finding these intersections of partnerships where when we come together and link, we can all do better together.

I guess maybe if I could say one more thing leading from that, Arletta and Lorna talked a little bit about the challenges, but also there’s some really special things about being on an island. All the challenges we have are not unique to other places, but we’re just closer together. Lorna’s comment about the leadership being so supportive, I think we have that really in spades here in Hawaii. We are an inspiration for other places.

At the Hawaii Foodbank, we’re part of a cohort of other food banks who serve military families. Colorado, Savannah, Georgia, there’s a handful of food banks across the nation. We asked Arletta to come talk to the group about this working group because what she and her partners have done in creating this all-branch, all-collaborative, islands’, statewide organization of people is pretty tremendous, and everybody else was blown away. It gave a lot of ideas- not just concrete ideas, but inspiration and hope for what is possible.

Bob: What I’d like to do is ask each of you about advice you would give to someone who maybe is feeling the need for this on their installation, in their community, that you know there’s other people out there working on this issue, you know it’s an issue for the people that you serve.

I’ll start with Arletta and then Lorna. What advice would you give to someone who is on installation or working with Guard or Reserve and wants to engage with civilian organizations on the issue of food security for military families?

Arletta: It’s actually a partnership amongst several. I started my relationship with the Hawaii Department of Health, the public health department. That was a link that was made through Major Watanabe, but that’s how I fully understood how to deal with the food issue on the healthy side of the house. Reaching out to your public health departments, reaching out to those local food banks. I think there’s been a roadblock for a long time. It’s like we can’t talk to you because of security issues. I think that we’re all in the same business and all in the same game, and I think that we can talk to each other and share data and things like that, and I think that we can help each other.

I know on the health promotion side of the house, look at those areas that you’re reaching out to your cooperative extension. Great, great information on gardening, recipes, how to cook. Those are all skills that, on a military installation, I think that we need to teach. We need to teach about foodways, we need to teach about farmers’ markets, CSAs, all that stuff is an education piece because it all feeds into that food ecosystem. Because the goal– I know one of the goals that we have here is to try to stretch that food dollar as far as we can.

By stretching the food dollar, it’s buying local, preventing food waste, cooking with your scraps. A lot of the stuff that goes into the trash, that’s edible food, and there’s a lot of organizations across the country that are actually working on those sorts of things. I was recently, last week, at the American College of Sports Medicine meeting. I was able to wander around a Denver park that was near Union Station, and I stumbled upon the Denver Urban Garden. Which I have a garden. I got a lot of ideas from there. There are agencies in the community that can help you meet those goals.

Another thing that you might think about is encouraging breastfeeding in the workplace. That’s an education piece that a lot of people haven’t addressed, and that feeds right back into our food system as well. Reaching out to those outside partners that can help you. Every places has a little different agency, but like I said, the extension, the public health department, the local food pantries, your sister services. I’ve learned so much from the Army side, and the Army has learned so much from me. Just because you happen to reside in the same place, you’re not two different services. We’re all one Department of Defense.

That would be my advice.

Bob: Lorna, do you have advice from the National Guard perspective?

Lorna: Sure. I think you have to just set some goals. What do you want? How do you want to get there? Then talk about your ideas. You have to start having the conversation with your leadership, community organizations. You can talk to other bases. Call us. It doesn’t have to be big. You can actually start small if you wanted to.

Education is really the piece too. Of course, you want to educate the community and our leadership on some of the things that we need in our community or for our members. Schools, educate the children. [unintelligible 00:44:10]. They are the ones that are going to take it home, so tell them how you can be more sustainable, or teach them how you can save on groceries using coupons, or whatever it takes. Yes, set the goals, talk about your ideas. Then also, it does not have to be huge. Start small. It’ll always grow.

People want to help each other. In the Hawaii community, like was said earlier too, we support each other. Even we don’t only care for our kūpuna, or our elderly within our family, we actually help our neighbors. We take care of each other. We help our neighbors to make sure they’re okay. During a hurricane, we walk over to our neighbor’s house, especially if they’re elderly, and say, “Hey, are you okay? Do you need food? You need us to clean out your house?” Or whatever is needed. We make sure that they’re taken care of.

Once you start that conversation, I think everybody [unintelligible 00:45:09] and will be part of your team will gather.

Bob: Thanks, Lorna. Kina, we’ll end with you. Do you have advice for that person who might be in a community food bank or food pantry who knows there might be a need for military families and some opportunities to engage with National Guard or a military installation, do you have advice for how to get started?

Kina: I think reaching out to your local food bank is a really good start. Then I think for everybody, whether you’re at a food bank, or whether you’re in the military, or you’re a civilian, helping to reduce that culture of shame and stigma. Everybody needs help sometimes. We’ve all needed a hand up in our life, and so if we can create the kind of programs that are centered around helping each other, reciprocity, giving back.

I heard a great quote from someone in our community like, no matter how hard you have it, you can always help give blessings to other people. If we take that spirit, that connection in our community as part of the work we’re doing around food insecurity and health, then I think that goes a long way.

Bob: I want to thank you guys so much for the incredible work that you are all doing, and for sharing it with us today on the Practicing Connection podcast. Kina Mahi, Lorna Souza, Arletta Eldridge Thompson, thank you so much for joining us.

Lorna: Thank you. Mahalo.

Bob: I want to thank our listeners for joining us for this conversation as well. Thanks again to Jessica. She made this whole conversation possible with her hard work. We’d also like to thank our co-producer, Coral Owen; our announcer, Kalin Goble; Hannah Hyde, Maggie Lucas, and Terry Meisenbach for their help with marketing; and Nathan Grimm, who composed and performed all the music you hear on the podcast. We hope you’ll join us again soon. In the meantime, keep practicing.


Kalin: The Practicing Connection is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under award number 2019-48770-30366.


July 1, 2023
7:00 am - 1:30 pm CDT
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