LIHU‘E — During an emergency, there are three main areas of focus: shelter, water and food.
Seeing that there is a federal and statewide moratorium on evictions and the water system is currently intact, getting food to residents has become a focus for the county, county Managing Director Michael Dahilig detailed during Wednesday’s Kaua‘i County Council meeting.
Part of the problem, he explained, is the gap in resources whilst people wait for unemployment checks to come in or get back to work.
Of the $2 million allocated for emergency funding during the COVID-19 pandemic, the county has distributed about $625,591 in social services.
These funds have gone to the Hawai‘i Foodbank Kaua‘i branch ($156,700), Kaua‘i Humane Society ($20,000), Kaua‘i Government Employees Federal Credit Union ($100,000) and E Ola Mau Na Leo O Kekaha ($55,000). An additional emergency loan from the Hawai‘i Community Foundation gained the county $200,000 that will be paid back.
In the beginning, Dahilig said, the concerns were on the supply side, in ensuring the food supply can meet the demand. However, this has changed.
“It’s evolved (to the demand side). We’re having issues with the public not being able to afford the food,” Dahilig said, which has led to partnerships with nonprofits and food banks to supply food to residents free of charge.
Trying to figure out need has been difficult, so targeting geographical areas, working with local, pin-pointed nonprofits, seems to work. For example, the county looked at E Ola Mau Na Leo O Kekaha.
“Based on the Kekaha model, there needs to be a distribution chain as well as a degree of accountability that the nonprofit will take on that food goes to the people that need it,” Dahilig said.
A new program with the Hawai‘i Foodbank Kaua‘i branch and Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank distributed food Saturday at Vidinha Stadium in Lihu‘e, and will continue through the end of the month each Saturday at various locations around the island with the help of various community partners and donations from Alaska Airlines. See the related story in today’s newspaper.
This event, and the following ones throughout the month, will cost about $25,000 each.
This program plans to move around the island, distributing about 500 bags of food, and is bent on a strict vetting process.
Recipients must provide at least one paper form of demonstrated need for emergency food, like a Children’s Health Insurance Program card, proof of unemployment or reduction of hours, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rental-assistance eligibility, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps) benefit eligibility.
But is targeting enough? While council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa acknowledged that Kekaha has done a good job, and that it’s a model, there are continuing efforts from schools that he’s heard from that also target, but don’t seem to be working.
“Cafeterias are doing free lunches and breakfasts for kids at various schools,” Kagawa said. “Some days they don’t have enough, and some days they have a lot left over.”
Looking to the long-term, Dahilig expressed his own concern to the council. While the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security act can possibly cover these costs, that amount is not yet determined and the funds are not in hand.
“The issue with food, though, is that when you look at how much is going to be needed over the long term,” Dahilig said, adding that the council maybe should begin looking at putting funds toward food insecurity.
“But the authorization (in funds) we’re going to be asking from you will likely not cover a sustained effort in food.”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.