Food Bank supplies hit all-time low

There was a time when food lined the shelves of the Kaua‘i Food Bank’s Nawiliwili warehouse and spilled over into three Matson containers outside.

But that was eight years ago.

Today, only a quarter of the warehouse space is being utilized and at least four refrigerated units sit idle — unless you count one unplugged freezer serving as a makeshift desk.

Capable of holding 250,000 pounds of food, the warehouse is down to an all-time low of 38,000 pounds, or 15 percent of its inventory capacity. A more comfortable level would be 125,000 to 150,000 pounds.

“We’re running out of food before we run out of people in line,” Judy Lenthall, food bank executive director, said.

Cookies, salad dressing, cake mix and soda represent a large portion of what’s in stock, but they’re not high in nutrition.

Rice, the No. 1 most requested non-perishable food, and PediaSure for children are nowhere to be seen. Less than a pallet each of tuna, pasta and peanut butter remains. And major staples such as canned vegetables, fruits and soups are down to a combined five pallets.

“If a disaster strikes, this is all we have to give,” said Resource Development Officer Kelvin Moniz, gesturing at the bare shelves.

Lately, about 40,000 pounds of food is leaving the food bank each month, while only 35,000 pounds is received. The nonprofit makes up for the deficit from its own pocket, purchasing what it doesn’t receive.

And as supplies have dwindled, demand has risen.

During September 2007, 33,000 pounds of usable food was received and 4,700 individuals were served.

This September, only 22,000 pounds of usable food was received and assistance went out to 4,900 individuals.

When the food bank suffers, the hungry feel it.

Kaua‘i’s food bank is the only such organization on the island. It distributes food to 50 agencies, from churches to nonprofits, which then provide it to individuals in their communities. About half of Kaua‘i Food Bank beneficiaries — currently totaling 5,000 per month — are children.

Trained to handle emergency food requests during disasters — the food bank was formed in the wake of Hurricane ‘Iniki — Lenthall said the economic slowdown has been a “disaster in disguise.”

While the vast majority of food comes from grocery store donations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, community events help boost inventory.

Today, the food bank begins its annual two-month holiday food drive, the largest of the year. Between in-kind and monetary contributions, the nonprofit hopes to fill out its shelves and fund some of next year’s food purchases.

In addition to the ongoing drive, volunteers will be stationed around the island Saturday to collect donations in fish nets.

The food bank hopes to bring in 40,000 pounds of food, a slight increase over last year’s 36,000.

“We do the food drive to give us a month of food,” Lenthall said. “And you know what that means? People are going to be fed for Thanksgiving.”

Most wanted non-perishables

1. Rice

2. Tuna

3. Pasta

4. Ensure/PediaSure

5. Canned vegetables

6. Canned fruits

7. Peanut butter

8. Soups

How to donate

• To make a donation to the holiday food drive, place non-perishable food items in the paper bag included in today’s newspaper and drop it off at any Kaua‘i Fire Department station through Dec. 15. You can also send a check in the attached envelope directly to the Food Bank.

• In addition to the ongoing drive, volunteers will be stationed around the island Saturday, including Wal-Mart and Kukui Grove, to accept cash or food donations.

For more information, call 246-3809 or visit wwwkauaifoodbank.org

• Blake Jones, business writer/assistant editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com

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