Students find help with food stamps and more at HINET

(from left) Kathy Helfrich, Daniel Oka and Danielle Mejia – Cynthia Lee Cinclair

HINET Ho‘ola Ike is a program that very few students know about that provides financial assistance while students attend school. It can help with gas money through a mileage reimbursement. It distributes bus passes so that students can get to school. It even helps pay for books and other supplies. That way, a student’s scholarships and grants can go toward paying for tuition and housing costs.

You must have a C average to qualify.

“There is always a friendly staff member to help you with your homework or answer any questions you might have,” said WCC student Ian Jenss who has been with HINET for two semesters. “You can find hot water for coffee/tea and snacks. If you haven’t found your way to HINET yet, now is the time to get yourself set up for next semester.”

I interviewed HINET student support specialist Kathy Helfrich to find out more about the program.

What is the most important thing that HINET does for students?

The most important thing that HINET does for students is make sure they have enough food to eat while they are in school. Food insecurity is a real problem in our schools across the country, and we at HINET want to make sure we are doing everything we can to see that our students at the UH Community Colleges are getting enough to eat. According to current regulation, a student can only be eligible for SNAP (food stamps) if they are working consistently for 20 hours per week (80 hours per month) prior to applying. They can get an emergency issuance of food stamps if they are not working, but only for three months. They will not be eligible to apply again for three years.

When students apply through the HINET program, they can count the time they “work” on their school work, homework, attend classes, do projects, study, etc. toward that 20 hours per week. HINET makes it possible for students to get food assistance as long as they are in school–and even beyond when they are looking for work.

How long have you been running HINET?

HINET started in the fall of 2014 but didn’t really get going until the fall of 2015. We started with only one office at Windward Community College. Now we have offices at Kapi‘olani CC, Leeward CC, Hawai‘i CC and hope to add Honolulu CC and Maui College in the coming fall.

Our goal is to provide food and other assistance to community college students earning degrees in a workforce field at every college in the state.

What is the most rewarding part of the job for you?

Seeing students I have helped get good grades and graduate.

What are the biggest challenges with HINET?

Getting the word out. We want anyone who wants to go to college but doesn’t think they can afford it to come and see us. We want anyone who is going to college but is struggling to feed themselves and their family to come by for a visit.

We can help with money for books, supplies, gas and bus fare. We can work with students to identify their goals and get there.

Where do you see HINET going in the future?

We look to the state of Washington as our inspiration. They have expanded to 32 community colleges and technical schools. They have a state food stamp program in addition to the federal one, and they are putting people to work in good jobs. That is what I want for Hawai‘i as well.

The HINET office is in Hale Alaka‘i 106. For more information, go to


by Cynthia Lee Sinclair, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter