Thursday, November 15, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Hawaii Foodbank
braces for spike
in aid requests

The food bank has seen a 6 percent
rise in clients since Sept. 11

By Treena Shapiro

The Hawaii Foodbank is gearing up for a big increase in people needing help as thousands throughout the state feel the pinch of unemployment and pay cuts.

Following a large spike immediately after Sept. 11, the food bank has seen a roughly 6 percent increase in clients already.

"We never really focused on that before 9-11 because it was not an issue, and now it is," said Brett Schlemmer, director of operations for the Hawaii Foodbank.

The numbers have remained relatively stable since 1997, the last time Hawaii data were collected for America's Second Harvest's national hunger survey, Schlemmer said.

Schlemmer reported on the survey yesterday to representatives from charitable organizations and others interested in finding a solution to the state's hunger problem at Hunger Summit 2001, sponsored by Full Plate Inc.

"What we've seen is some decline in food stamp usage," he said. "There are more people relying on the safety net of the charitable food network that are not on food stamps than previously."

Each week, the Hawaii Foodbank charitable food assistance network serves 118,022 different people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and nonemergency food programs, the survey said.

However, the survey was conducted last spring, before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 sent the state into a severe economic decline, Schlemmer pointed out.

Food pantries that deal directly with clients have noticed a sharper rise in the requests for services, although the demand has stabilized over the past few weeks.

Chad Buchanan, family services office coordinator for the Salvation Army, said his food pantry had already seen increased demand of 5 percent to 15 percent each year before Sept. 11.

"The increase has really been on the up before Sept. 11, but that was just a real dramatic spike," he said.

At that point the number of clients nearly quadrupled, Buchanan said.

"We ran out of food within two weeks."

Now the demand is almost double what it was before Sept. 11, not just in requests for food, but for other services such as financial assistance, Buchanan said.

"The vast numbers of people who are unemployed has really created an entirely new population of people who need this kind of service, who didn't need it before," he said. "We are just totally overwhelmed.

"We're filled to capacity and the needs are still coming. The phones are ringing off the hook every day with requests for information and requests for assistance."

The Hawaii Foodbank issued some of the key findings of a hunger survey it conducted this spring:

>> Charitable food recipients are three times more likely than the public to be unable to obtain nutritionally adequate and safe foods in a socially acceptable way.

>> Only 44 percent of needy households receive food stamp benefits.

>> The needy often have to make tough choices about how to spend their money: 44 percent have had to choose between food and rent and 43 percent between food and utilities.

>> The needy are ethnically diverse, with 39 percent native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 30 percent Asian or other, 30 percent Caucasian, 10 percent Latino, 8 percent American Indian or Alaskan Indian and 1 percent African American.

>> Some 37 percent of households served had one or more children under the age of 18. Eight percent were homeless.

>> Only 64 percent of clients are below the official poverty guidelines. Another 6 percent are 186 percent higher than the federal poverty level.

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