Letters for Monday, September 26, 2011

• Foodbank turf war

Foodbank turf war

It’s time for another showing of solidarity by Kaua‘i’s kama‘aina. There are no doubt other readers like my husband and me who are concerned about the recent articles involving the Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank (KIFB). For the past 17 years Kaua‘i residents have benefited from the amazing service by KIFB. As Garden Island readers, we asked ourselves what is this apparent food bank “pilikia” (trouble) all about?. Who is making trouble for KIFB? Why did an O‘ahu based food bank, the Hawaii Foodbank (HFB), decide to open a branch here when we already have an existing food bank that’s been serving Kaua‘i’s hungry for many years? Is there really a need for two foodbanks on an island this size? It hardly makes sense.

We care about KIFB and have helped to support their great work here on Kaua‘i. We are not KIFB employees, not volunteers nor are we on their Board of Directors. We wanted to know why KIFB is getting such negative press. We decided to do some digging. We were shocked to learn that many of the allegations made are inaccurate. I called the food bank and state agency personnel. My goal was to learn the likely cause for the apparent conflict between HFB and KIFB. Each are private, non-profit food banks. Despite the negative press via letters to the editor and comments by HFB President Dick Grimm, their conflict has nothing to do with KIFB’s prior management of USDA’s food allocations. Rather, it is likely caused by the fact that KIFB and now HFB have applied for the very same USDA TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) allocation for Kaua‘i, awarded for years to KIFB. In an apparent effort to smear KIFB and enhance their chance of taking over the Kaua‘i USDA food allocation, HFB has resurrected an old and settled matter concerning KIFB’s management of a prior USDA grant. Our Garden Island has already accurately reported that that matter was settled years ago.

KIFB has not “Lost” its USDA funding as suggested by the wording of a Garden Island headline on its front page Wednesday, 9/21/2011: “Food Bank Loses Federal Funding”. I had to read the entire article before learning from the second to the last paragraph that “When asked if the USDA’s food will now go to HFB, Kaua‘i branch, Young said we have not made that decision yet. Somebody will be contracted to distribute the food before the next funding year starts in January.”

On inquiry, I learned that the USDA has not taken any action at all. Rather, the Office of Community Services (OCS), a division of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is reviewing the matter as it is OCS’s responsibility to make a recommendation to the USDA. En Young is the person at OCS working on the review. Unfortunately, Garden Island readers had to read even further in the article to learn that state Sen. Ronald Kouchi has written OCS Director Mila Ka‘ahanui, stating “Hurricane Iniki struck Kaua‘i while I was the Kaua‘i County Council Chair. During the aftermath of the hurricane , the KIFB was instrumental in providing goods and services to thousands of homeless and needy residents. They have continued to be a large part of the community….”.

I decided to call OCS directly and asked for the offices of its director, Mila Ka‘ahanui. Both she and her assistant, En Young, are off island in meetings this week. The secretary for Ms. Ka‘ahanui confirmed that Mr. Young is responsible for preparing a recommendation to USDA concerning the decision which is yet to be made. The USDA will then make its decision as to which entity will receive their food for distribution on Kaua‘i.

Was the O‘ahu-based food bank, HFB, invited to open a branch on Kaua‘i? If so, I was not able to find any record of an invitation. Why are they here? Why do they impugn Kaua‘i’s Food Bank of many years, KIFB, when speaking to the press? One must consider that they want to replace KIFB. It seems that HFB wants to become an even bigger food bank than they have been when based just on O‘ahu. KIFB has and continues to serve Kaua‘i. The KIFB website details many programs in effect for many years. Since the economic crisis of 2008, the demands for food from KIFB have escalated significantly. In 2008, the total requests for food were 57,306. In 2009, there were 88,979 requests for food and in 2010 the number jumped to 116,437. KIFB anticipates more than 150,000 requests for food this year. KIFB is and has been working very hard in meetlng this need, distributing more than a million pounds of food in a year. KIFB personnel are proud to share their statistics, including cost of service, with anyone who cares to ask. Their director of Food Resources, Kelvin Moniz, has done a great job acquiring food, even getting the military commissary system involved to provide KIFB with needed food which help KIFB support Kaua‘i’s veterans and others. KIFB has many service centers they provide food to all across this island.

The recent Garden Island headline was unfortunate. It raised doubts about KIFB’s status. KIFB is already experiencing repercussions. For example, the Kalaheo school drama club called KIFB Tuesday to report that they had raised $1,000 for the KIFB. One day after they were told of the incoming donation, KIFB received a call that the school principal was holding off sending the donation because of this past Wednesday’s Garden Island article. Apparently the school principal was concerned that KIFB had done something wrong. In my research, however, I found that was not the case. Rather, as stated in the press, there is a “conflict” now between the two Kaua‘i free food distribution groups, KIFB, here for the past 17 years, and the HFB, here since June. Each wants the contract for distribution of USDA’s annual food allocations for Kaua‘i.

The HFB is bigger than KIFB for obvious reasons. They have the O‘ahu based population and USDA distribution based on that population to draw on. So in June they came here, rented a large warehouse, brought refrigerated trucks and now are doing their level best to replace KIFB’s operation. The HFB opened a Kaua‘i branch initially after Iniki. There was no food bank on Kaua‘i before 1992. Federal disaster relief monies came to Kaua‘i in sums never received before. Kaua‘i’s receipt of those funds prompted HFB to come to Kaua‘i. HFB did not stay long, returning to O‘ahu in 1994. KIFB was the first Kaua‘i based food bank. They formed to fill the void left by HFB. Their articles of incorporation were filed in December 1994 and they have been faithfully serving Kaua‘i ever since.

I feel certain that KIFB will continue their good work if given the opportunity. If there are any readers who would want to offer their support, now is the time! The Hawaii State Office of Community Services (OCS) will be making its recommendation to the USDA by the end of October. Do we want our Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank to lose this important allocation from the USDA? If you want to support Kaua‘i’s own KIFB, Mr. Young or the state’s OCS director, Ms. Ka‘ahanui, can be reached at (808) 586-8675. It’s time for Kaua‘i to stand up for our long-serving KIFB!

Bridget Baynes Hammerquist, Koloa

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