The good times are going to roll at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea on the morning of Saturday, March 16. That’s when dozens of bocce ball players will take the field to support Maui’s kids during the eighth annual Aloha BackPack Buddies Bocce Ball Fundraising Tournament.

The tournament benefits the Maui Food Bank’s Aloha BackPack Buddies program, which provides healthy weekend meals to elementary school children from food-insecure homes throughout the academic year. Students who are on their school’s free and reduced meal program can pick up a prefilled backpack on Friday afternoon; it contains six meals that they can take home with them. Since the program began in 2012, it has received support from a number of RAM members, both on and off the bocce ball field.

Dave Richardson of Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers has played in the Aloha BackPack Buddies Bocce Ball Fundraising Tournament every year since its inception. He says he was inspired to participate after becoming aware of a distressing reality. “I was unaware that so many children go hungry when they go home for the weekend. It is an epidemic—and right here in our backyard. You look at all of the affluence on this island…I never stopped to think that there were so many who went hungry every night. I also donate to the Maui Food Bank on a monthly basis.”

This year, Richardson will be cheering on tournament contestants from the sidelines: he volunteered to be one of the event’s facilitators—a role he clearly relishes. And what does he enjoy the most? “Seeing fellow Mauians, a lot them Realtors, coming together for a common cause,” he said.

Another returning player, Jeff Simon, broker-in-charge at Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers, says the mission and scope of Aloha BackPack Buddies is what inspires him to sign up every year. “Initially, it was because some friends asked me to join them on a team, but when I heard where the money went, it was a no-brainer. The thought of schoolkids going hungry is horrible, and thankfully, Aloha BackPack Buddies stepped up to try to address this problem. When you hear what the program accomplishes, it’s very encouraging. The cherry on top is that it’s a really fun day.”

Richardson agrees wholeheartedly. “It’s a great opportunity to have fun and provide relief to those in need,” he said.

Last year, the event raised more than $20,000 for the Aloha BackPack Buddies program. Event organizers say they hope to see 24 teams participate again this year—slots are still open for teams and individual players. The cost to play is $125 per player or $500 per four-person team; the registration fee includes a continental breakfast and buffet lunch. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m.; the tournament kicks off at 9 a.m.; and the championship match starts at 12:30 p.m. Trophies will be given to the first-, second- and third-place teams and special awards will be presented to the “best dressed” and “friendliest” teams.

No bocce-playing experience? No problem. In fact, first-time players are encouraged to sign up. “Just do it,” Simon said. “The success stories are worth the price of admission, and it’s fun. Even if you don’t feel like playing or can’t fit it into your schedule, please consider donating. The money will go to a great cause.”

Any amount helps—and it will make a difference in the effort to end childhood hunger. Corporate sponsorships are also available. Sponsors who contribute $147 will receive a 24-inch by 18-inch sign with their company’s logo; the signs will be on display during the tournament.

To learn more about the Aloha BackPack Buddies Bocce Ball Fundraising Tournament on Saturday, March 16, to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, or to register a team, contact Patrick Kilbride at (808) 264-4289 or patrickkilbride7@gmail.com. For more information about the Maui Food Bank, visit www.mauifoodbank.org.

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