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Hunger high as dollar shrinks

NAWILWILI — What do you do when your family is pushed over the edge?

Judy Lenthall, director of the Kaua‘i Food Bank, said demand for food and the number of people needing food has increased about 20 percent.

Lenthall and Kelvin Moniz were on hand to accept several contributions: a check from Rob Silverman of Rob’s Good Times Grill representing proceeds from the recent Dine Out for Hunger campaign, and a check from First Hawaiian Bank which will help cover the costs of bags used for the annual Holiday Food and Fund Drive for the food bank.

“A lot of people were just making it before everything started getting tight,” Lenthall said. “But with the rising costs in fuel, food and electricity, it just put them over the edge.”

Lenthall said she noticed the increase in demand toward the end of April and early May. That number dropped a little in June when she said the government incentive checks arrived.

“But then, it shot up again in July after that money was all gone, and with school back in session,” she said.

Coming on the heels of the successful Dine Out for Hunger campaign, Lenthall and Moniz accepted a check from First Hawaiian Bank, one of five major sponsors for the holiday drive.

Mike Murakoshi, a vice president for FHB on Kaua‘i, said they were a sponsor two years ago and voted to return as a sponsor for the food drive.

Since that time, the demand for food has gone up and so has the sponsorships for the drive.

Moniz said this year’s holiday food drive has five major sponsors. In addition to FHB, other sponsors include Grove Farm, King Auto Center, Kukui‘ula Development Co. and The Gas Company.

The target is $40,000 and 40,000 pounds of food, Moniz said.

“We were really close to making that goal during the Spring drive, so we thought we would just keep it the same for this drive,” he said.

But the drive which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 15 will have more opportunities for people to help feed Kaua‘i’s hungry.

During the big food collection day which falls on Oct. 18, Moniz said in addition to the the islandwide sites, this drive will have the addition of Cost-U-Less as a collection site. He added that they are in discussions with several other major outlets and are hopeful they will join the network of Big Save stores, malls and shopping centers. Other outlets include Ishihara Market and the Wal-Mart store.

In addition to the rising demand from people needing food, Moniz pointed out the warehouse has been “just maintaining” as the FHB guests were given a tour of the Nawiliwili facility.

“We need to have food available for the agencies who come to stock their pantries for clients, but we also need to have a certain amount of stock for emergency disaster needs,” Moniz said. “Right now, we’re just maintaining.”

In 2007, the Kaua‘i Food Bank distributed more than 411,000 pounds of food and responded to about 5,000 requests for food each month, states the food bank’s Annual Report which was presented to the guests.

Of these numbers, about half were children and 15 percent were elderly.

The Kaua‘i Food Bank services this need through a network of more than 50 agencies including churches and organizations who utilize the food bank.

“Protein-based foods like canned tuna, chicken, peanut butter, rice, fresh and canned fruits and vegetables are always in great demand, yet in limited supply,” said Thomas Lodico, president of the the food bank Board of Directors.

In addition to the agencies, the food bank works with six other programs to get food to people. These include the emergency food services which include the agencies.

Vocational rehabilitation programs work with other agencies and in 2007, the Kaua‘i Food Bank provided more than 1,273 hours of on-the-job training with partner agencies like Alu Like, Friendship House and Welfare-to-Work programs.

Keiki Cafe is celebrating its fourth year of operation, serving more than 7,200 “super-sized” nutritious supplement to children between 7 and 17 years old in 2007. This after-school program, the first of its type in the state, was started in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club, Waimea Clubhouse and the Kaua‘i Children’s Discovery Museum.

An offshoot of the Keiki Cafe is the Backpack program so children who were noticed “hiding” food at the Keiki Cafe would have food at home when other food supplies were not available. This food was provided in unlabelled backpacks for the children, and plans are underway to expand this program to Kaua‘i’s Eastside.

Lenthall said that some $2.8 billion is left on the table in Washington, D.C., and through the Food Stamp Outreach program, the Kaua‘i Food Bank, with funding from the Hawai‘i Community Foundation and the Annie Sinclair Knudsen Foundation secured more than $113,000 in new annual food dollars for those eligible for these benefits.

Volunteers are the backbone of the Kaua‘i Food Bank operation, said Lenthall.

“In 2007, our beloved volunteers gave almost 7,000 hours of their time and aloha to salvage and sort food donations, stock shelves in the warehouse, answer phones, help distribute food to the needy, or collect food and money at the food drives,” she said. “The dollar value of volunteer time saves the food bank more than $130,000 in personnel costs in 2007.”

Currently, the Kaua‘i Food Bank is in its 11th year at the Nawiliwili facility and operates with what Lenthall describes as a “skeleton crew” of six.

“We all wear multiple hats and work many programs,” she said.

For more information on the upcoming Holiday Food and Fund Drive, visit the KFB Web site at www.kauaifoodbank.org

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com

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