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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 18, 2010

Food drive sees bounty of goods, cash

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hawaii Foodbank volunteer Miriam Jose nets a donation from a car driving down Ala Moana during the organization's annual food drive.

NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Donations are still being accepted at all fire stations and at participating banks through the end of May.

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Horns honked in support and a steady supply of cars stopped by to drop off grocery bags and boxes filled with food at the Hawaii Foodbank's 21st annual food drive yesterday.

Orange-vested volunteers lined both sides of Ala Moana fronting Restaurant Row, one of a dozen collection sites on O'ahu where the public could drop off donations of cash or food.

More than 3,000 volunteers fanned out from Restaurant Row to Waianae Mall and Windward City shopping centers.

The goal was $500,000 and 500,000 pounds of food. That goal was soundly met and possibly exceeded, said Sheri Rolf, Hawaii Foodbank food drive chairwoman.

Right from the start, two men came with a carload of cases of food. The Honda Dealers Association presented a check for $20,000 and a hotel industry coalition made a $66,000 donation.

Meanwhile, volunteers used fishing nets to capture spare change and bills from passing motorists.

"Hawai'i is such a caring community," said Linda Chu Takayama, Hawaii Foodbank board chairwoman. "When folks are made aware that people are going hungry, even when times are tough, they find a way to help.

"Our mission is that no one in our 'ohana goes hungry. We'll do whatever we can do to make that happen."

The Foodbank distributes food to needy families, about 46,000 pounds a day. A drive like the one held yesterday, Rolf said, would usually net enough food and cash to last throughout the year.

But with the economy limping along, the number of people needing assistance keeps growing. A recent survey showed that last year more than 183,000 people statewide needed emergency food assistance. That's a 39 percent increase since 2006, she said.

"The demand is greater and at the end of our fiscal year, we project we'll distribute more than 11 million pounds of food," Rolf said. "That's a million more pounds than last year and a million more than the year before that."

The Foodbank helps feed children, seniors, low-income working families, the homeless , disabled, temporarily unemployed, and those experiencing sudden emergencies due to fire or natural disasters, according to the nonprofit group.

Yesterday's drive was the culmination of four months of fundraisers held by local businesses. And despite the big push, anyone can still make a donation at fire stations or participating banks, Rolf said.

Similar drives were held on the Big Island, Maui and Kaua'i yesterday. The most-wanted items for all were rice and protein-rich canned foods.

"It's wonderful to see the amount of donations," Takayama said.

Kim Bieniasz, an agent at Bankers Life and Casualty in Downtown Honolulu, was among the 16 volunteers who took a shift yesterday along Ala Moana. This was the second year she and others came out to support the Foodbank, she said.

"I think it's not been too hard to get people to donate," Bieniasz said. "People seem pretty willing to help."

Hawai'i Pacific University student Jordan Gungap was among a group of students at the food drive. They yelled, whooped and hollered whenever a car stopped and donated.

"It's a really exciting experience to see everyone coming out here supporting one cause, the Foodbank," Gungap said. "People have been really generous."