Food Basket feeds thousands at Old Kona Airport

  • Volunteer Richard Likeke Teanio Jr. from Liliuokalani Trust carries bags of food to a car on Friday morning. Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today

  • Cars line up at Old Kona Airport for The Food Basket’s Ohana Drop on Friday morning. 50,000 pounds of food were distributed to 2314 individuals. Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today

The Food Basket has never been busier.

At the Old Kona Airport Park in Kailua-Kona on Friday morning, the nonprofit organization held its biggest Ohana Drop to date.

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“We’re expecting at least 1,000 cars,” said executive director Kristin Frost Albrecht, noting the majority of donations have been to first-time food bank users. “In Ocean View earlier this week, we’re seeing about 70% are brand-new emergency food users; they’ve never had to access a food bank before.”

The task of gathering such a massive volume of food has been made more difficult due to more than two dozen food pantries — typically distributors for The Food Basket — closing down.

“We’re taking in a lot of people they would normally service, but a lot of our pantries are run by people who have underlying health issues or are elderly,” Frost Albrecht added. “We want everybody to be safe; that’s the most important thing for us. We want them to be fed, but we want everybody to be safe; that’s why we started doing these Ohana Drops. It’s our best way to reach every community.”

Even before Friday’s Ohana Drop, which served more than 50,000 pounds of food to 505 families with a combined total of 2,314 individuals, The Food Basket has been responsible for disbursing approximately half a million pounds of food since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Frost Albrecht noted all food comes from on-island, ensuring everything remains local.

“Over 50% is coming from our local farmers; 100% has been sourced locally on Hawaii Island,” said Frost Albrecht. “We haven’t spent any money off-island; it’s all staying right here.”

Such an immense response — already amounting to more than twice the amount of food distributed by The Food Basket during the entire 2018 Kilauea eruption — requires a massive amount of manpower. A small army of volunteers was present at the Old Kona Airport to ensure everything went smoothly, even as the line of cars awaiting food filled the parking lot of Kekuaokalani Gymnasium and the Kona Community Aquatic Center.

“The volunteer response has been overwhelming,” said Frost Albrecht, highlighting those who came Friday in Kona as well as the group of volunteers at both the Hilo and Kona sites packing boxes every day for distribution. “We’ve got amazing volunteers here: we have the Lions Club, we have Lili‘uokalani Trust, we have our regular volunteers that come into the warehouse, we have Tommy Kahikina Ching over here who does a lot of promotions for us, we have Ross (Wilson) from Sen. Hirono’s office, and we have parks and rec and the police department. It’s an awesome group of people; it takes a lot of people to do something like this.”

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The Food Basket continues to be busy as the COVID-19 outbreak progresses. They’ll be increasing the amount of Ohana Drops from 13 to 16 sites starting next week.

“I just want to say ‘mahalo’ to everybody who’s been supporting this effort because it takes a lot of money for us to be able to actually pull this off,” Frost Albrecht added. “Ninety-eight percent of our money goes straight back out into the community through food … We can’t do it without our community support.”

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