Downturn hurting donations


POSTED: Saturday, November 07, 2009

The lines of people waiting each week for a bag of grocery staples at island food pantries have doubled in the past year.

But the volume of donations to more than 200 nonprofit outreach agencies has not increased to meet the demand because donors are also feeling the pinch of the economic downturn.

“;The clientele has doubled from last year at this time,”; said Ipo Paia of the Salvation Army Family Services Office. “;We have seen a lot more people coming in with their children. A lot of them are not homeless; they have part-time jobs.”; Besides food, the Salvation Army has a financial assistance program for people who have had an eviction notice or need help with their first month's rent. The Ward Avenue food pantry is open Wednesday and Fridays.

“;Donations have been slow,”; said Pat Kaslausky, director of the St. Patrick Outreach center in Palolo Valley, the largest East Honolulu food pantry. In October they saw people from 500 households in line for a basic bag of nonperishable food.

Kaslausky said, “;We're seeing mostly new people, not that many regulars. Some have lost jobs; some aren't making it on their paycheck.”; Churches from several denominations and public schools in the area contribute food. The pantry is open weekday mornings.

“;The demand is twice as much”; at Lighthouse Outreach in Waipahu, said the Rev. Joe Hunkin Jr. “;We're seeing people from Ewa Beach and Mililani because other pantries have closed. A lot of them are working people, but with so many people to feed, they need help. The pantry on Leokane Street opens one day a week.”;

Aloha United Way President Susan Doyle said calls to the 211 information line seeking food are about 30 percent higher than last year. The agency refers callers to food pantries in their areas. “;We are getting more requests for basic financial assistance, for shelter and medical care as well as food,”; she said.

The number of calls to AUW's hot line is a significant indicator, said Polly Kauahi, Hawaii Foodbank director of development. “;From our perspective, most of those are first-time system users. If they already knew how to get food, they wouldn't have to call.”;

Kauahi said the food bank, which warehouses large-volume donations from businesses and is a resource for 250 independent distribution organizations, has seen a diminishing amount of food coming to the central warehouse from manufacturers and wholesalers.

“;Corporate donations are less available. In the food bank world, purchasing food was not even heard of, but it's a reality now,”; Kauahi said. “;In the first quarter last year, we purchased 42,000 pounds. In the first quarter this year, we bought 400,000 pounds to keep up with increased demand.”;

Chris Chun, co-executive director of Aloha Harvest, said the 130 agencies on its delivery rounds “;have said the numbers have doubled and tripled.”; Aloha Harvest collects perishable food from businesses such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Meadow Gold, Y. Hata and Starbucks and delivers it the same day to distribution agencies.

“;I have a belief that when there is great need, there is great abundance,”; Chun said. “;If we believe there is not enough, there won't be enough.”;

The distribution agencies anticipate help in the holiday season, which stimulates companies, clubs and churches to contribute to the needy in their community. Hawaii Foodbank launched its “;Check Out Hunger”; program through which shoppers can contribute at the checkout counters of major markets.

Hawaiian Electric Co. employees aim to match or surpass last year's in-house food drive, which netted 3,000 pounds of nonperishable food and $4,700 in cash donations, said company spokesman Darren Pai.

The company's annual drive, which will continue through next week, is one of the largest company efforts on Oahu. Donations will go to the Hawaii Foodbank and the Institute for Human Services.