Foodbank says need rising in Hawaii
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
The Hawaii Foodbank distributed 1 million more pounds of emergency food in the last fiscal year than it did the previous year, reflecting an upward trend that has seen a nearly 40 percent rise in demand over the past four years.
According to a study released yesterday by the Hawaii Foodbank and the national food-distribution network Feeding America, more than 183,000 people in Hawai'i, including an estimated 55,000 children and 11,000 seniors, now turn to the Hawaii Foodbank for food — an increase of 39 percent since 2006.
Hawaii Foodbank director of development Polly Kauahi said the rise is mainly attributable to a spike in demand over the last year as job furloughs, pay cuts, layoffs and other effects of the economic downturn have destabilized many Island households.
Kauahi said the study results were "staggering," but not unexpected given the anecdotal feedback the Foodbank had been receiving from social service agencies and distribution centers.
The results are based on surveys conducted at emergency feeding centers, such as soup kitchens and shelters, Ohana Produce distributions and food pantries. It did not account for non-emergency distribution sites such as senior centers.
Kauahi said the Foodbank distributed an estimated 10 million pounds of food in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, up from nearly 9 million pounds the previous fiscal year.
With manufacturers and wholesalers feeling the economic pinch and private individuals facing rising food costs, Kauahi said the organization has had to be proactive — including doubling the number of direct-mail fundraising campaigns it undertakes — just to maintain normal levels of food donations it gets.
Still, despite relatively consistent food donations, the Foodbank has had to purchase food for distribution at unprecedented levels over the last year.
"Foodbanks never (purchased food) until about five years ago," Kauahi said. "If they did, it was maybe one container of food. We've been purchasing containers full of food each month."
Kauahi estimates that the Foodbank spent about $250,000 in food purchases last year to supplement food donations.
The Foodbank is now operating with a 16-day supply of food at its Mäpunapuna warehouse.
"This isn't an emergency yet," Kauahi said, "but it is of concern because of how much the need has grown and continues to grow."
Kauahi cites calls to the Aloha United Way's 211 line as one indicator of the state's growing need for such food aid distribution. The statewide information and referral service receives hundreds of calls each month from people seeking referral to a food distribution center.
"This means they're not in the system yet," Kauahi said. "If you're in the system, you already know where to go. These are new people who are seeking help for the first time.
"The layoffs haven't stopped," she said. "This is still a growing population."