Friday, Dec. 09, 2022|
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A bill to provide millions in funding to Hawaii’s four food banks is making its way through the state Legislature.
House Bill 1745, introduced by six House members, including Jeanne Kapela (D-South Kona, Ka‘u), seeks $2 million from the general fund to support the food banks on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii Island as federal pandemic relief funds dry up and philanthropic donations decrease.
Currently, one in six residents, including nearly one in four children, in the Aloha State faces food insecurity. The need for food and resources skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020-21, the state’s food banks distributed around 36.5 million pounds of food to those in need — almost double previous years.
“Food banks were able to meet this increased need during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic due to a major increase in federal funds and philanthropy. However, both of these sources have declined considerably, and Hawaii’s food banks will need additional support in order to continue to meet the needs of Hawaii residents,” the bill reads.
And, food insecurity levels are expected to remain elevated for at least another year, according to the bill which also notes that more than 82,000 children in the state are expected to “struggle with hunger this year” and Hawaii is projected to have the second-highest rate of child food insecurity in the nation.
The funds, if allocated, would be split among the Hawaii Foodbank on Oahu, Maui Food Bank in Maui County, Foodbank Kauai on Kauai, and The Food Basket on Hawaii Island. The measure stipulates the monies be used for general operations, including staffing, transportation, food purchase, food storage, and food distribution costs
HB1745 was unanimously passed by the House committees on Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness, and Health, Human Services, and Homelessness following a joint hearing. More than 48 pages of testimony were submitted with more than two dozen organizations and individuals in support of the bill.
“The impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic have heightened the issues of food insecurity and hunger in our state to new levels. Due to the economic impacts of the pandemic on Hawaii Island, our food banks in Kona and Hilo have faced the highest need in our thirty-three-year history, with record numbers of residents needing our services for the first time in their lives,” The Food Basket CEO Kristin Frost Albrecht wrote in testimony.
In 2020, the nonprofit served nearly six times more individuals than served pre-pandemic.
“Although the economy is improving, but we are still serving three times more than we served pre-pandemic as our residents’ grapple with the long-term impacts of pandemic unemployment, illness, and the rising costs of rent, groceries, gas, and utilities,” she said. “Due to ongoing breaks in the supply chain, the need remains high and is forecast to remain high for the next couple of years; federal commodities are falling; and philanthropy, while still higher than prepandemic levels, is much reduced over the height of the pandemic. The State’s food banks need support to continue to ensure no-one goes hungry.”
The bill next needs to secure a hearing before the House Committee on Finance to remain alive this legislative session.
While food insecurity levels are expected to remain elevated for at least another year, the situation on Hawaii Island is currently looking up.
“It’s getting better,” said Albrecht on Tuesday.“Volunteer organizations are doing great and our food pantries can meet their demands.”
The nonprofit, which began operating drive-thru Ohana Food Drops in 2020 as the pandemic took hold, held over 65 event in 2021 and served 129,933 individuals, or 31,274 families.
Currently, the food drops are on pause, with soup kitchens and pantries able to handle the demand on the island.
“The numbers really started to slow down in June (2021),” Leelen Park, deputy director of Healthy Food Access Initiatives, said of the food drops that at the height of the pandemic drew over 1,000 vehicles filled with hungry resident out of work.
To ensure The Food Basket and its community partners are able to continue to meet needs, residents can support the organization with food and monetary donations via the 21st annual Feed-A-Thon, which kicks off Tuesday, Feb. 22, and continues through Saturday, Feb. 26. As always, radio personality Tommy “Kahikina” Ching will host the event at KTA Super Stores islandwide.
Items needed include both meat and plant-based proteins (beans, peanut butter, etc), rice, saimin, pop-top soups and canned meals, canned veggies, pasta and cereal.
Monetary donations can also be made at hawaiifoodbasket.org/donate.
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