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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Leftovers keep many from hunger

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Health Writer

Suzanne Pagan, left, hands a receipt to Kapahulu Kentucky Fried Chicken supervisor Guadafer Costales for leftovers that will feed the needy. The smile on Pagan's face reflects the nature of her work: She's always welcomed.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Eighty-five pounds of Dunkin' Donuts.

One hundred five pounds of KFC chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy.

Fifteen pounds of Vim and Vigor veggie sandwiches.

Fifteen pounds of Best Western Plaza Hotel stew and chicken.

One hundred sixty pounds of Poi Company bagels, English muffins and dinner rolls.

One hundred forty pounds of First Hawaiian Bank fruits, vegetables and soup.

It was all part of a day's work for Kauahi Sai, driver for Aloha Harvest — a non-profit company that picks up leftovers from O'ahu's food places and drops it off to those who help the homeless, the hungry and the needy.

With the radio playing mellow Island tunes and the refrigerator chilling the food at 45 degrees in the back, Sai traverses the Island — from Wai'anae to Waimanalo, from Hale'iwa to Hawai'i Kai — shuttling his cargo of charity.

"This job is awesome," he said. "You never have a bad day; everyone's always happy to see you."

Aloha Harvest has delivered 645,939 meals since it launched in November 1999.

That's 645,939 meals that normally would have wound up in the landfill or at a pig farm. It's one of those situations where everyone wins: The agencies and hungry get the food they need; the restaurants get a tax write-off for the donation; and it's a free service.

"Aloha Harvest has become the key transport provider of perishable food — it's critical," said Joda Derrickson, executive director of Full Plate Inc., which is working to end hunger in Hawai'i. "There really was a need, and they're helping reduce the amount of food in the state that was just being wasted."

And the need is growing. Experts say Hawai'i is facing a hunger crisis. A recent study revealed that one in five Hawai'i residents lives in a household where food has been hard to come by.

Sept. 11 just made things worse. So did the welfare roll layoffs.

A recent spate of generosity is getting the Foodbank through the holiday season, but experts are looking for long-term solutions. And Aloha Harvest sees room to grow. With its truck running seven days a week, the organization is tapping about 5 percent of the potential market, according to president and founder Helen ver Duin Palit.

Nationally, experts believe nearly one-third of the food that is produced is wasted.

Driven by a distaste for waste, Palit started City Harvest in New York nearly 20 years ago. Her food pipelines now operate in cities across the country.

In its two years in Hawai'i, Aloha Harvest has sought out food in all sorts of locations. They have picked up from some of the city's best restaurants; unloaded military submarines; and taken the upscale leftovers from the "Pearl Harbor" premiere.

Yet Palit knows there's room for more giving from more restaurants, catered parties, weddings and even funeral homes.

Palit believes some are reticent to donate because of a fear of being sued if someone gets sick from the donated food. But donors are protected by both state and federal Good Samaritan laws, Palit said, and the organization has taken other legal and health steps to protect all involved.

The beauty of the program is evident as Kauahi Sai pulls the Aloha Harvest truck into a residential Honolulu neighborhood to drop off at a women's shelter run by Child and Family Services.

Staff come out to the street to help unload two bags of sandwiches, a box of chicken and a tray of doughnuts.

"The women look forward to the chicken and the doughnuts," said shelter manager Anne Martin. "Actually, they're appreciative of everything, but the chicken and the doughnuts really get them going."

And then there are the times when the green and white truck brings them steak and shrimp and other exotic treats.

"The smiles are just wonderful," Martin said. "I wish those that donate it could see their faces."

Reach Alice Keesing at akeesing@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8014.