Kaua‘i Food Bank looks for more ways to skin the hunger problem

NAWILIWILI — Somewhere on Kaua‘i, a 43-year-old woman supporting her family writes, “When a little 4-year-old wants hot cocoa and you don’t have any milk to make it, that’s sad.”

This is one of the stories from Kaua‘i written to the Second Harvest program that spearheaded this year’s Hunger Awareness Day, June 5.

Through the “Faces of Hunger” project, America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s food bank network, collects stories from people in their own words. The stories reflect how their lives have been affected by hunger.

Second Harvest feels that by sharing these experiences, people across the country can better understand the issue of hunger and motivate them to join the movement to end hunger in America.

Kaua‘i Food Bank is the island’s agency whose task is to, one day, get Kaua‘i to become food secure.

Hunger Awareness Day is a day when representatives from the island’s churches offer prayers to the hungry, people whom event emcee J Robertson said are the “invisible people.”

They exist on Kaua‘i, said Judy Lenthall, executive director for the KFB.

“Sometimes, I do not have enough money paying my rent, buying gas for the old car, and paying for my medicine,” said a 75-year-old woman who works part-time in Lihu‘e. “So I resort to opening canned goods for my basic subsistence and rely on other goods received from the food bank.”

Over the 12-year period Lenthall has served as the director for KFB, she said there have been changes in the faces of the hungry.

“Being without food is always an emergency,” Lenthall said in her comments contained in the KFB 2006 Annual Report. “It makes no difference if hunger is caused by a flooded home, the isolation from a collapsed road, or lack of money. It all feels the same to the person who needs food.”

Currently, the KFB responds to more than 5,000 emergency food requests in a typical month, Lenthall said.

But food banks will not end hunger by distributing donated food, she said.

“Today, the biggest hunger-fighting program in the United States is the food stamp program where in 2006, more than $28 billion was spent in federal funding for food stamps,” she said.

In Hawai‘i, more than $155 million was spent in the food stamp program in 2006, according to statistics in the “State of the States: 2007” report which was released, coincidentally, on Hunger Awareness Day.

“Today, right now, food stamp participation is the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about,” Lenthall said.

Lenthall said, referring to the report, about 67 percent of all the people in Hawai‘i eligible for food stamps receive them. She also pointed out that between 2000 to 2005, Hawai‘i’s Food Stamp Participation Rate has dropped almost 19 percent while the rest of the nation has increased their participation.

The participation rate for Hawai‘i was at 90 percent and dropped to 67 percent in the period the figures were taken, Lenthall said.

“We are the only state in the nation to have a decreasing participation rate,” Lenthall said.

The decreasing participation rate means there are monies available that are not being used, Lenthall said. Using the food report, Lenthall estimates there is about $4 million available food stamp dollars that is currently not being used.

To capitalize on this, Lenthall said KFB initiated a food stamp outreach program with Kaua‘i’s kupuna and is having some success in helping seniors complete the food stamp process.

Barbara Morrison, Lovey Harper and Evelyn Olores have been the leaders in working with seniors to complete the process, Lenthall said.

“Our goals for the next few years include food stamp outreach for eligible seniors so that new sources of food monies can be used to purchase healthy foods,” said Tom Lodico, president of the KFB Board.

Through the efforts of KFB volunteers, the new approach has already yielded more than $20,000 in new monies, Lenthall said.

Michelle Panoke, the KFB’s Agency Relations and Volunteer Coordinator, said the agency will keep chipping away at the hunger problem on the island by hooking people up to programs that help them feed themselves and their families.

Hunger Awareness Day celebrated its sixth anniversary this year, and in keeping with the tradition of the original event that was held in the National Cathedral, Capt. Mitham Clement, Pastor Jed Young and Pastor Ed Bueller offered prayers to the various agencies as well as hungry people throughout the world.

“The Kaua‘i Food Bank is even more committed to providing food to the hungry, responding to emergencies and eliminating hunger,” Lenthall said. “But we can’t do this without the help of volunteers.”

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