The Food Basket reports ‘significant’ decrease in number of people served in Kona

  • Thursday's Ohana Food Drop wasn't limited to vehicles only. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • National Guard members place food in a vehicle Thursday during the The Food Basket’s 105 Ohana Food Drop held in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • A National Guard member and volunteers prepare food for distribution during Thursday's Ohana Food Drop held at Old Kona Airport Park in Kailua-Kona.

  • A National Guard member places bags of produce into the rear cargohold of a vehicle Thursday at The Food Basket's Ohana Food Drop held in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • National Guard members swoop in with rice and produce to ensure families remain fed on Thursday during the The Food Basket’s 105 Ohana Food Drop held in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

The Food Basket has noticed a sizable drop in the number of people being serving via its monthly Ohana Food Drop in Kailua-Kona.

On Thursday, the nonprofit, National Guard members and volunteers filled vehicles hundreds of vehicles at Old Kona Airport Park with enough protein, vegetables, fruit, rice and other staples to feed 2,615 people. That’s down from almost 3,700 in September, 3,200 in October, 4,000 in November and 3,200 in December.

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“It’s really good news. It means that at least some people are back to work,” said executive director Kristin Frost Albrecht, noting the island’s lone food bank was expecting the number to go down as tourism returns to Hawaii Island after travel to the state came to a halt last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Though it is a positive note, Frost Albrecht said the nonprofit is hearing from many of those it is serving that few in Kona are back to full-time work.

“Mostly it’s part-time and temporary jobs,” she said.

According to the most recent unemployment data released by the state, Hawaii Island’s unemployment rate stood at 9.8% in November, down from 13.5% in October and September. In April, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, 23.3% of the island’s workforce was unemployed. Between April and November, the number of unemployed residents dropped from 20,750 to 8,850.

The “significant” decrease seen in Kona hasn’t been observed elsewhere on the island, Frost Albrecht said, adding that Kona is “unusual compared to the rest of the island.” On Friday, 2,600 people were served in Pahoa, and earlier this week in Hilo, more than 3,500 people were served.

“I think we’re seeing the benefits of the tourist economy come back on the Kona side,” she said.

The Food Basket has been doing the monthly food drops since April 2020, as the pandemic took hold, helping to ensure food on the table when people lost jobs or saw a decrease in their work hours. Food drops are held in Pahala, Naalehu, Ocean View, Milolii, Kailua-Kona, Waikoloa, Kohala, Waimea, Honokaa, Hilo, Keaau, Pahoa and Volcano.

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To date, an estimated 200,000 people have been served via the food drops. Frost Albrecht said The Food Basket plans to continue the Ohana Food Drops through June, unless additional benefits make the need less or the situation improves drastically.

The next food drop is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday in Waikoloa at the Kamakoa Nui Skate Park. For a full schedule, or to donate to The Food Basket, visit www.hawaiifoodbasket.org.

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