PUHI — Wes Perreira never thought he’d work for a food bank. In fact, he didn’t know what one was.
“It’s uplifting being in a line of work where everything you do, you know you’re helping somebody in need,” said Perreira, who was recently promoted as Hawaii FoodBank-Kauai’s branch manager.
In fiscal year 2016, the Kauai branch received about 1.3 million pounds of food donations. The figure represents a growing five-year trend Perreira wants to see improved.
“We’d like to become independent, where we don’t have the supplement from Oahu,” he said. “It’s a work in progress. We want to inform people that hunger is real on Kauai. In the worse case, you have children who have no control of that. I feel really horrible about that. As much as possible, we help people with children.”
About 400,000 pounds of the food bank’s food donations come from Oahu. However, all donations — food and monies — on Kauai stay on Kauai, Perreira said.
“We band together with other islands, and we buy a container of potatoes, a container of onions and we bring that in once a month. Our clientele get the produce which is the most in-demand items,” he said. “We have this network of 29 nonprofit agencies, which include the Salvation Army, many of the larger churches around the island that have soup kitchens and pantries. Some even do emergency food requests.”
Andy Gonzales, a volunteer with U-Turn for Christ, collects food for his organization once a week. The food collected from the bank helps disenfranchised men seeking to better themselves.
“We’re using our time wisely and donating it to the food bank in return for food items for our camp,” he said. “Without this place, a lot of people and a lot of church communities wouldn’t get their food. God’s providing through them.”
Prior to Perreira becoming the branch manager, he was the warehouse supervisor. Instead of a point person who headed the food bank, he shared responsibility with Michelle Panoke, who is in charge of agency and administrative support.
Perreira’s new position gives him added oversight with personnel.
“I’m in charge of the intake of food and the food going out: the health and safety of the food,” he said. “Trying to get commercial donors like Safeway. Safeway gives us a lot of food, but they don’t have to. They know that because they give the food to the FoodBank, there won’t be liability.”
The need for more food increases over summer, Perreira said.
“Kids from food-insecure families, their main food source is school lunch. As we head into summer, we get this push to raise a lot of food from the public,” he said. “A lot of those families can’t afford to keep a lot of food at home.”
The food bank feeds about 13,000 people on the Garden Isle a year and holds about 110,000 pounds of food on any given day.
As far as donating to the food bank, Perreira said 94 cents of every dollar donated feeds the hungry.
He recommends commercial businesses and community organizations hold internal food drives to increase food donations.
“Their employees or customers can contribute to the food collection and they can donate that to the FoodBank,” he said.
The branch’s next food drive will take place at both Safeway locations on the island. Volunteers with the inaugural “Have A Rice Day” on Saturday and Sunday will collect bags of rice to feed the needy.
“There is no reason you should go hungry on Kauai,” he said. “From Hanalei and Kekaha, there are agencies in between (that have food from the bank). There is food for you.”