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Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, November 22, 2000

By Joanie Dobbs, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Uncle John, left, and Daniel enjoy leftovers from a
Hawaii Opera Theatre gala delivered to the homeless
through Aloha Harvest.

Tomorrow is a feast day for most of us, but many island families are unable to share in the bounty. Several island charities work all year to ease the burden of hunger. Here is how two of them make ...

Caring connections

Aloha Harvest brings
leftover gourmet food
to the needy

Fellowship, too
How to help

Stories by Betty Shimabukuro
and Joanie Dobbs
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Wasting food is a shame. Your mother probably told you that when you didn't want to eat your peas. The thought may cross your mind tomorrow as you survey all the leftovers on your Thanksgiving table.

A visit to St. Andrew's Cathedral during Sunday meal service brings humanity to your mother's cliché. The face of Darren Kaminaka, an electrician out of a job and an apartment, homeless and hungry. Of "Uncle John" and of a man named Daniel, homeless and hungry.

To waste is a sin, to share is divine. Your mother may have told you that as well. Again, at St. Andrew's, humanity. The face of Helen ver Duin Palit, who 18 years ago decided too much food was being wasted in New York City's restaurants and created a direct line between them and the city's soup kitchens. She called her project City Harvest, a 24-hour food line that provided refrigerated trucks to take leftovers from point of plenty to point of need.

Palit's America Harvest network now serves the hungry in 122 U.S. cities and 83 countries. Angel Harvest, for example, delivers gourmet leftovers from post-Oscar galas to the hungry in Los Angeles. Last November, Palit began Aloha Harvest in Honolulu.

"There is enough extra food in every city to feed every person," Palit has said.

The concept is simple: This nation wastes one-fifth of its food supply as a matter of routine. Palit's approach, also simple: "Aloha Harvest picks up donated perishable fresh food, hot or cold, and takes it immediately to those who need it."

By providing a direct link between sources of fresh food and more than 125 soup kitchens, shelters and transitional shelters, Aloha Harvest eliminates the cost of long-term storage and thus can provide a meal at an average cost of 64 cents.

Aloha Harvest donors number 96, including catering companies, hotels, restaurants, fast-food eateries, groups that throw a lot of parties, even a mortuary. In its first year, the project has provided food for 128,000 meals -- 800 every day -- through various social service agencies. It does all this with just four paid employees.

Here's how the Aloha Harvest connection is made:

Hawaii Opera Theatre had a fund-raising ball two weekends ago at the Sheraton Waikiki. The event's chairwoman, Suzanne Engle, anticipated a great deal of leftover food and called Aloha Harvest with a window of time for pickup.

On the night of the event, more than 500 guests were served, the party ending about 10 p.m. Extra food was brought to a table, where executive sous chef Dwight Yoshioka and Aloha Harvest driver Suzanne Pagan packed it up. It was all loaded into Pagan's refrigerated truck.

At 11 p.m., Pagan called the Rev. Father Richard Rubie at Celtic Catholic Church. Would he be able to use eight large trays of food tonight? The answer was yes.

By 11:15 p.m., the truck had pulled up at Celtic House and the food was transferred to refrigerators. If this shelter had been unable to handle the quantity or type of food in the truck, Pagan would have called the next closest shelter on her list and made a second delivery. More calls and deliveries would have followed until all the food was passed on.

Pagan is a mother of five, the youngest just a few years old. She recalled how she "prayed for a way to help the homeless" after she came across an acquaintance now forced to live on the streets. Shortly thereafter she was hired as a part-time driver for Aloha Harvest.

The food she brought to Celtic House was served the next day at St. Andrew's Cathedral, where free meals are provided every Sunday for those in need.

By 1:30 p.m. Sunday, people were in line in front of the cathedral parking lot. Once Mass ended, volunteers began serving. None of the 150 to 200 guests left hungry.

Among those served was a homeless man named Daniel, who has also shared in the City Harvest program in New York. Once he realized Aloha Harvest was a sister program and met the founder of the movement, Palit, tears came to his eyes.

"The homeless are very similar to the voters in Florida," he said. "They need to know that they are counted."

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
River of Life Mission volunteer Les Jury holds
a food box prepared for needy families for

River of Life
delivers food --
and fellowship, too

What it does with leftovers

One on one, family to family, River of Life Mission is battling that monster called hunger, and its accomplice, isolation.

Each week, the mission serves as conduit between families in need and groups with food to spare. But the connection is more than one of pure charity. Each week, the mission packs food boxes and sees that each is delivered by one family to another family, with the hope of building relationships that will reach beyond the dinner table.

The project is called Mission Possible and it began as a pilot program in Nanakuli three months ago. Overseeing it is Reese Williams, program director at the mission, who developed it as a community service project for seminary students at International College and Graduate School, where he is studying for his master's degree in theology.

Williams said the mission had long been packing food boxes, but a person had to come to the Pauahi Street building to pick one up. "We end up just by default missing people who have trouble making it here. We were missing a real vital group of people."

Mission Possible went to Nanakuli and through church groups identified not just needy families, but also volunteers who would agree to make a food-box delivery every week for a year. In the beginning, 17 families were served; the number is now up to 33.

"In a way, we're the matchmaker," Williams said. "We find a family in need and we find a volunteer and we put them together."

Next month, with the help of the entire seminary, faculty included, the program will expand into neighborhoods closer to town.

Through the week-to-week, steady contact, Williams hopes the needy families will gain something besides a few good meals. "We get an opportunity to really spread into their lives, to help them. If we're lucky, maybe we can even get them to come to church."

The boxes are filled mostly with non-perishables donated from many sources, from stores clearing out overstocked or close-to-expiring items, to individuals who routinely buy a little extra to share. Boxes are packed by members of the Good Will Industries work program.

This week's Thanksgiving boxes included frozen turkeys, even though as of last week, the mission didn't have a single turkey.

As with most things, Williams and his staff simply prayed on the problem. "In one day," he said, "60 turkeys showed up."

He is still praying for more. Tomorrow the mission will serve 350 to 400 people a turkey meal.

 | | |

The lowly numbers

More than 65,000 children age 15 and under live in households experiencing "food insecurity,"according to a preliminary state report, "Hunger and Food Insecurity in Hawai'i Health Survey 1999." Food insecurity is defined as both hunger and uncertainty about where the next nutritionally adequate meal will come from. Close to 11 percent of Hawaii households fall into this category, the report states, up 1.7 percent since 1995.

How to help

Bullet Aloha Harvest will pick up fresh, frozen, canned, refrigerated, packaged and prepared foods. Restaurants, caterers and food distributors are asked to contribute leftovers from special events. Families and small groups may donate leftovers from private parties. Donors are protected from liability by Hawaii's Good Samaritan law. Call 537-6945, even if you're not sure you'll have leftovers.

Bullet Celtic House is in need of food for a Dec. 23 celebration. Call 524-2679.

Bullet River of Life Mission accepts donations of food from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 101 N. Pauahi St. For large deliveries, call ahead so volunteers are ready to help unload. Send financial contributions to P.O. Box 37939, Honolulu 96837. The mission also needs volunteers to work one half-day shift per week, checking in clients, distributing clothing or assisting in the kitchen. Call 524-7656.

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