Demand up at
Kauai Food Bank

Officials say higher housing and
medical costs are responsible

LIHUE >> Even as a dramatic economic recovery continues on Kauai, an equally stunning increase is being seen in people seeking free food from the Kauai Food Bank.

One of every six Kauai residents is receiving at least some free groceries, according to the Food Bank, and officials blame skyrocketing rents and the cost of medical care for uninsured residents.

This year, Kauai enjoyed one of the best tourism summers in many years; construction of upscale homes has created jobs; and unemployment was at 4.6 percent in September, one of the lowest rates in a decade.

At the same time, the number of people receiving free food from the Kauai Food bank rose to 9,500 last month from 6,500 a year earlier.

The increase has nothing to do with jobs -- most of the Food Bank's recipients are working -- and everything to do with Kauai's housing boom, said Judy Lenthall, executive director of the Kauai Food Bank.

The shortage of housing has resulted in landlords increasing rent for available units.

"The cost of living on Kauai has driven many working people to cut costs by seeking free food," Lenthall said. "It often comes down to either paying the rent or paying for food, and at least they can get help obtaining food."

The Food Bank does not give groceries directly to recipients. Instead it provides the food for a minimal fee to churches, service groups and charities. The food comes from a variety of sources, mostly from dated stock in Kauai grocery stores.

Each organization has its own criteria for deciding who is entitled to free food. Some churches feed only their own members; others feed anyone who walks in the door.

"We have people fill out a little application," said Grace Galiza, who runs community programs for Aloha Church in Lihue. "But if they're looking for food, we give it to them.

"One of the most surprising things is that many people who come here have two or three jobs, but they don't work enough hours at any one of them to be entitled to medical insurance, so their money goes for doctor bills and prescriptions," Galiza said.

Galiza said her church is feeding 120 families a month, each with three to four members, twice as many as a year ago.

"The economic recovery on Kauai is helping the rich and the middle class but not working poor," she said.

Lenthall said the number of Food Bank recipients has been volatile since Sept. 11, 2001. Prior to the terrorist attacks, the Food Bank was feeding about 5,000 people a month. That jumped to 8,500 after tourism industry layoffs following 9/11. Last year, it dropped to 6,500 and then jumped to 9,500 this summer.

Although the Food Bank is reaching about 16 percent of the population, a 2001 University of Hawaii study found that 20 percent of Kauai's population is "food insecure" and not able to afford sufficient food.


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