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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 27, 2003

Feeding hungry became mission

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

John White earned degrees in political science and urban planning, but his heart was always with the less fortunate and finding ways to help them.

In 1983 White, along with one truck driver, opened a small warehouse on Sand Island to store donated food and called it the Hawai'i Foodbank. From its humble beginnings, the Foodbank would go on to become the state's largest food-distribution organization and one of the top charities in Hawai'i.

White, a farm boy from Illinois who had a vision to help the needy, died Dec. 19. He was 65.

White studied at the universities of Illinois and Arizona and came to the University of Hawai'i to work on a doctorate on the politics of agriculture. But after realizing the dire need to supply food to those in need, he dropped his studies and concentrated on starting up the Foodbank.

"He had very strong values and a belief in doing something for the common good," said his wife, Pua. "He really understood that there are so many inequities in our society, things that we consider to be basic rights — food, clothing, shelter — that are not a given in our society."

In 1982, the Legislature passed the "Good Samaritan" law that encouraged the donation of unmarketable products by protecting donors from liability. White had fought for that law and within a year created the Foodbank.

In its first year, the Foodbank operated with a donated flatbed truck, forklift, and two refrigerated containers. The organization distributed 500,000 pounds of food to 20 charitable agencies that year.

Today, the Foodbank distributes more than 8.5 million pounds of food each year to 245 charitable agencies on O'ahu. The Foodbank also distributes to food banks on the Big Island, Maui and Kaua'i.

White retired in the mid-1990s, but Pua White said her husband could never be satisfied with his work.

"He used to tell me that the Foodbank would always be a Band-Aid, that it would never solve hunger because hunger was an issue that ran much deeper than food being distributed," Pua White said. "Unless we can make society more equitable, where everybody can have access to education, housing, all those things, there would be too many disparities within our culture. In many ways, that's where his understanding and his commitment came from."

In addition to his wife, White is survived by two sons, William and Andrew; and sisters, Angela O'Neill and Eva Woods.

Services will be held on the Mainland.

Reach Curtis Lum at 525-8025 or culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.