Hunger, poverty rampant on Kaua’i

NAWILIWILI — It might seem odd, but Judith “Judy” Lenthall cannot wait till her services and her organization are no longer needed.

For Lenthall, executive director of the Kauai Food Bank, going out of “business” is the goal. It would mean that everyone on Kaua’i has enough to eat, that children, the poor and the elderly were not at risk of going hungry, and that poverty was not a factor.

Unfortunately, Lenthall and the Kauai Food Bank are a long way from obsolescence.

“The poverty rate has been go-ing up for the past three years,” she said, citing U.S. census data indicating Kaua’i’s poverty rate is at about 12 percent.

“Many people are not making livable wages. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer,” she said.

“If you have enough food, be thankful,” Lenthall said.

Kauai Food Bank officials and volunteers are kicking off their annual Holiday Food and Fund Drive. The goal is to raise $20,000 and 20,000 pounds of food.

Recently, volunteers pitched in to staple 20,000 cash-remittance envelopes to brownpaper bags that were delivered with the Wednesday, Oct. 12 edition of the Island Shopper, and the Thursday, Oct. 13 issue of The Garden Island (today).

The idea and hope is that Kauaians across the island will dig into their wallets and purses and donate cash, or provide non-perishable food, to help leaders with the Kauai Food Bank and community organizations help feed the needy, according to Lenthall.

Every $1 donation can be converted into $16 worth of food.

Lenthall said food bank leaders simply do not have enough food. She said the food distributed is largely “supplemental,” and “not enough to live on.”

As of August, for the year to date, food-bank employees and volunteers had served more than 46,000 people. The Kids Cafe program has served almost 5,000 children as of August, while more than 3,700 seniors have benefited from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Senior Produce Program.

Lenthall said officials with the food bank receive no funds from county leaders, but do receive $5,000 from state officials, a figure she said has decreased significantly since Gov. Linda Lingle took office.

Lenthall took over as executive director in 1994. Lenthall grew to learn about hunger in the aftermath of Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992, when virtually everyone on Kaua’i depended upon donated food to survive.

Officials with the approximately 100 member agencies of the Kauai Food Bank, including food pantries, low-income child care, senior centers, YWCA, American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and churches, feed more than 6,000 people each month.

Here are two examples of Kaua’i residents who depend upon the food bank for supplemental sustenance.

Nani Kalahiki is a 32-year-old single mother of three young children who lives in Wailua Homesteads. She works full time at the housekeeping department of a hotel, and also works two nights a week at a local hospital. She earns $1,200 a month. Her subsidized rent is $1,000 per month. She receives $400 a month in government aid.

Brian Suzuki, 38, is married with two children. His wife is nine months pregnant. He was recently laid off, and is looking for work. He recently purchased a home in ‘Ele’ele, but cannot afford the payments.

His monthly unemployment benefits are $1,320; his monthly mortgage is $650. After expenses, he has $245 per month for food, or about $8.16 a day, to feed a family of five.

From a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Nawiliwili, Kauai Food Bank leaders distributed more than 1 million pounds of food in 2004.

Fifty percent of what food-bank leaders received in 2004 came from local produce, 29 percent from local donations, 17 percent from U.S Department of Agriculture or off-island sources, and the remainder from other sources.

Food-bank officials benefit from deliveries from leaders at major supermarkets, which provide facility employees with products such as dented-but-safely-usable canned goods, cereal boxes and food products nearing their expiration dates.

“Before we had a food bank, all this stuff would have wound up in the landfill. We’re recycling it now in a way,” Lenthall said, referring to the products that come from owners and operators of supermarkets.

Kauai Food Bank leaders and volunteers normally provide food for about 10 percent of the island’s 60,000-plus residents. Of those, 50 percent are children, and 25 percent are kupuna (the elderly), organization officials said, adding that the numbers helped usually go up during the holiday season.

Contributors are encouraged to place healthy, nourishing, non-perishable foods into the brown paper bags, and drop them off at the Kauai Food Bank, or at other drop-off sites including all Kaua’i Fire Department fire stations.

Lenthall said cultural changes have played a factor in the number of persons at risk for hunger on Kaua’i. Traditional family structures have changed, and the island is posed with more challenges in terms of growth and development.

Lenthall said there was a period in the 1700s when there was an actual law in place that no one could go hungry.

Despite the great spirit of aloha that still exists in the Hawaiian culture, Lenthall had this observation about people not taking care of their own.

Speaking in terms of aloha when it comes to local residents donating to Hurricane Katrina victims, or earlier, tsunami victims, Lenthall said, “our local donations took a nose dive. We have needs here, too.

“We need to take care of those local needs, and then contribute to Katrina victims, rather than the other way around.”

Kauai Food Bank holiday food-drive sponsors include owners and operators of Aloha Furniture Warehouse, Century 21 All Islands, Ching Young Village Shopping Center, Kauai Community Federal Credit Union, KONG Radio Group, Kukui Grove Center, McDonald’s Restaurants of Hawaii, Inc., Waipouli Town Center and Wal-Mart.

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