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Feeding Hope

(From left) Hawai‘i Foodbank president and CEO Ron Mizutani, food drive board member Terri Hansen-Shon, and director of food drive and events Beverly Santos are encouraging residents to donate generously and spread the word about this year’s virtual food drive.

Hawai‘i Foodbank’s annual donation drive is going virtual, making giving easier than ever during a time when the state’s hungry need the most support.

When Hawai‘i Foodbank made the decision to cancel its annual food drive this month, it was done with a heavy heart.

“We knew we had to do it,” shares Beverly Santos, director of food drive and events. “Our community is always so amazing in responding to us, and we wanted to make sure we were there for our community. We didn’t feel we could put them and our employees and volunteers at risk.”

Once the state’s coronavirus cases reached triple digits, Hawai‘i Foodbank staffers began talking about a backup plan for the agency’s largest fundraising event.

“That was a stopping point for us to re-evaluate whether we could go forward,” says Santos, who’s been with the nonprofit for four years. “Our biggest concern is the safety and health of everyone.”

If a volunteer or worker got sick, for example, Hawai‘i Foodbank would be faced with closing its doors temporarily.

“For us to shut down our operations for just one day would be devastating to the people that rely on us,” Santos explains. “With COVID, the demand is even higher for our services.”

Finding a creative way to continue the annual food drive in the midst of an ongoing pandemic was paramount for Hawai‘i Foodbank. The nonprofit, which has been feeding the state’s hungry for decades, was already reeling from the cancellation of its signature culinary event — Great Chefs Fight Hunger — earlier this year.

“The most important thing all of us can do right now is focus our attention on helping others with the new challenges we all face,” says Ron Mizutani, president and CEO of Hawai‘i Foodbank. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to help our communities stay safe, informed and nourished.”

Although the in-person food drives won’t be taking place this month, there are still a handful of ways the public can support one of the state’s most essential organizations.

The first is to participate in a cyber collection event. Visit hawaiifoodbank.org and click “Food Drive Virtual” to online shop for products to donate. Options are all part of Hawai‘i Foodbank’s most-needed list, and range from $5 for a 10-pound bag of apples to $12 for 10 boxes of cereal and $27 for 12 cans of corned beef.

“There’s also an option for just monetary donations if you don’t want to shop,” says Santos.

A donation of just $10 to Hawai‘i Foodbank will provide meals for 25 local families.

“We wanted to make sure we still had an outlet for people to give because the need is still so great,” Santos adds. “We really can’t do it without the community right now.”

Another easy way to help is to be an advocate for the cause. Tag the food bank (@hawaiifoodfbank) and use the hashtag #givebyexample to let friends, family and acquaintances know that Hawai‘i Foodbank is a reliable resource, and that there are ways to help.

“I think the biggest way to get the community involved during this time is just to see what other people are up to, how they’re spending their time and what they’re doing,” Santos says. “I don’t think people realize how much of an impact sharing their story can make on their friends and community.

“Movements are happening online. We just hope and ask the community to include us in their narrative.”

And, the need is always there.

“A lot of people think that it’s for the homeless or for shelters or churches, but it’s kind of hit home with COVID,” adds volunteer food drive board member Terri Hansen-Shon. “Everyone needs help at some point.

“I think if people knew more about it and how it helps all communities — young, old, homeless, etc. — they would see the value and what role it plays in the state of Hawai‘i.”

On average, Hawai‘i Food-bank distributes 12 million pounds of food annually. Due to COVID, it sent out more than 11 million pounds in just five months (March-July). It’s also spent nearly $5 million in COVID-19 purchases, though its annual budget hovers at a mere $400,000.

“We anticipate the needs are going to increase,” adds Mizutani. “And we are preparing for that as best as we can. Our inventory has always been very fragile, and during this pandemic it has been a challenging balance between supply and demand.”

Normally, Hawai‘i Food-bank sets a fundraising goal each year, but for 2020, the only mission is to collect as much a possible, and in the safest way possible.

“We want to keep the spirit of food drive alive,” says Santos. “And, we want to express gratitude to the community.

“In Hawai‘i we take care of each other, and people have been giving and sharing what they have with those who are struggling to keep food on their table right now.”

Learn more about Hawai‘i Foodbank and ways to help at hawaiifoodbank.org.

Hawai‘i Foodbank Kaua‘i Distribution Numbers

March 2019 — 92,277 pounds
March 2020 — 118,894 lbs pounds
29 percent increase

April 2019 — 117,017 pounds
April 2020 — 235,842 pounds
101 percent increase

May 2019 — 122,740 pounds
May 2020 — 247,943 pounds
102 percent increase

June 2019 —101,533 pounds
June 2020 — 160,050 pounds
37 percent increase

July 2019 — 130,443 pounds
July 2020 — 145,293 pounds
10 percent increase

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