Increase in food demand overwhelms soup kitchens


POSTED: Monday, September 14, 2009

With unemployment growing, soup kitchens statewide are overflowing with hungry residents.

On Kauai, with a 10 percent unemployment rate, soup kitchens are filled to capacity, officials say.

During the summer the Lihue Salvation Army soup kitchen has doubled the number of people served from roughly 50 to more than 100 per day, according to Salvation Army Envoy Larry Groenleer. The number is slightly smaller now that school is in session, he said.

“;We had heard that some of the people who went to the soup kitchen for a meal had to wait for others to finish eating and a seat opened up before they were able to eat,”; said Theresa Koki, who contacted Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. for help.

Kauai's Anti-Drug Office and the Department of Parks and Recreation donated two picnic tables to the soup kitchen to help accommodate those in need. Waimea High School donated three picnic tables, said Groenleer.

Groenleer added that the Hanapepe Salvation Army has seen a similar increase.

Dick Grimm, president of the Hawaii Foodbank, said there has also been a tremendous increase in demand.

“;In the last two years we've increased distribution by 2.5 million pounds (or nearly 2 million meals),”; said Grimm. “;I don't know a single agency that said their demand has gone down.”;

The Hawaii Foodbank was forced to purchase 1 million pounds of food last year and expects to buy more this year to cover the shortfall.

“;A lot of donors in the past have now become recipients of donations,”; Grimm said. “;It's tough out there. One of our biggest concerns right now is what's going to happen to state employees.”;

The Institute for Human Services, Oahu's largest homeless shelter, saw an increase last month of 50 or more people a day requesting meals, said spokeswoman Kate Bepko.

“;We're seeing all kinds of different people,”; she said. “;Some people have college degrees, and they're coming to stay at the shelter. Some people are just coming for meals. Some are coming with kids.”;

IHS serves between 300 to 400 people every day, but in response to the overwhelming need, the shelter has partnered with the Hawaii Foodbank to conduct an Ohana Food Outreach once a month.

The program occurs on the last Thursday of the month and is set up like a food pantry. Bepko said anyone can go to the shelter and take a certain amount of food depending on the number of family members.

Coincidentally, Feeding America has recognized September as Hunger Action Month. The nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization is asking citizens to “;give a little, feed a lot”; through their Web site and various fund drives.