State picks Hawai‘i Food Bank to distribute USDA food

LIHU‘E — An official decision wasn’t expected until October, but Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank board members got the word early: Their new competitor was chosen to receive a third of the food they normally distribute.

“(The Office of Community Services) told us that their decision was that Hawai‘i Food Bank (Kaua‘i branch) would get the food,” KIFB Board of Directors Chair John Yamane said Tuesday. “At the moment, they haven’t told (HFB) they’re recommending them. To give the food to Hawai‘i Food Bank, the USDA has to approve it. They have until the first of November.”

Historically, the USDA has always gone with OCS’ recommendations, making the USDA approval process more procedural than anything else. Nonetheless, KIFB is not conceding defeat.

“We asked (OCS) if there’s an appeal process. They said they never had one, but they’re open to one,” Yamane said. “We’re asking questions about that and asking their criteria. So what we’re waiting for is the information. We have 30 days to get all our information (back) to them and appeal it.”

He said OCS did provide an explanation for its decision.

“They said that they chose Hawai‘i Food Bank because it’s more efficient, because they’re bigger,” Yamane said.

OCS is the state-designated agency that administers The Emergency Food Assistance Program on behalf of the USDA. Under TEFAP, the USDA buys food and distributes it to the states. The states turn the food over to a state agency, such as OCS, that determines how the TEFAP food will administered.

“The original TEFAP thing is they have to give it to a community action agency (CAA) — not a food bank, a CAA — and those are usually economic opportunity (agencies), like Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity and Hawai‘i Economic Opportunity,” Yamane said.

KIFB is a CAA because it’s independent and includes emergency food as part of its mission, he said.

“What happened is the state is taking it all away from the economic opportunity (agencies) and giving it to (Hawai‘i) Food Bank. The Big Island got the same letter we did,” Yamane said, referring to a letter KIFB received last month from OCS informing the food bank that it would be losing the USDA food it normally distributed due to KIFB’s administrative cost ratio and because the USDA cannot support two food banks on the Garden Isle.

Two weeks ago, OCS Contracts Administrator En Young said a decision had not yet been made as to which agency would distribute the USDA food on Kaua‘i, and that it was reviewing its options. Young could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday.

KIFB’s current contract to distribute USDA food is set to expire in January. Yamane said the value of the contract is about $1,600 per month in food.

KIFB Executive Director Judy Lenthall has estimated it totals approximately 200,000 pound of food per year, which is greater than Hawai‘i Food Bank’s total distribution on Kaua‘i during its last fiscal year.

HFB returned to Kaua‘i last year after a 16-year absence. It opened a branch warehouse in Puhi, three miles away from KIFB, which has served the island since HFB’s departure in 1995. The two food banks must now compete for limited resources.

Yamane said the USDA food is “not a huge chunk” of what KIFB distributes.

“We raise more than that in a month,” he said. “But it means we will have to raise that much more. KIFB will continue on. We can sustain our operation. We’ll ramp up fundraising. All the nonprofits are doing stuff on our behalf. There’s ongoing stuff for us all the time.”

• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

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