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Aloha Harvest collects food donations and delivers it to other organizations, free of charge.

According to aloha harvest, hawai’i throws away roughly 273,122 pounds of food each year—a startlingly high number that the nonprofit organization says is problematic for a number of reasons.

Food that goes untouched for example, most likely ends up at H-POWER or Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill, the latter of which is the only one of its kind on O’ahu that accepts municipal solid waste.

But space there, of course, is limited, and Aloha Harvest estimates that it might only be useful for another 15 years. Plus, wet food takes a longer time to break down. Not only that, but waste from landfills also contributes to methane gas emissions that break down the ozone layer.

Concern for the environment aside, though, there is one other reason Hawai’i should care more about the food it is tossing. One in five residents rely on help from local food banks or pantries—which is where Aloha Harvest steps in.

The way it works is rather simple. Seven days a week, Aloha Harvest collects unused food donations and distributes it to participating agencies, gratis. Currently, Aloha Harvest only operates on O’ahu, and because it does not have a warehouse, food is collected and distributed on the same day.

Donations come from a variety of sources. Sometimes it might be untouched leftovers from fast-food restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, hotels or caterers. Other times, a food distributor might have broken down a case of new products to use as samples and is unable to sell the balance. The organization also collects canned goods and boxed meals, as well as dairy items and produce.

In the last fiscal year alone (July 2016-June 2017), Aloha Harvest collected food from 312 donors across O’ahu. In total, the organization reports that it collected a little more than two million pounds of food that was distributed to 117 nonprofit agencies, providing more than 1,353,000 meals to more than 52,000 people.

“We have such a huge need for people who are hungry and need food,” says Ku’ulei Williams, Aloha Harvest executive director. “We’re throwing a lot of good food away that could be rescued and meet a need for people.”

The mission of the organization—to rescue quality food that can be given to agencies that help Hawai’i’s hungry, according to its website—is one that Williams describes as unique to Aloha Harvest. Its support for other organizations comes with no price tag, which means nonprofit partners don’t have to worry about how acquiring meals for those it serves might affect a budget. They can simply focus on helping the community.

It’s an operation that Williams says only continues to grow. Several years ago, donations to Aloha Harvest exceeded the typical amount it receives, and that doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. “I think this year we’ll go over 2 million pounds,” says Williams. “We’ve been going over 2 million pounds since 2013.”

As Aloha Harvest continues to expand, Williams and the board continue to look at ways to keep up with a growing demand. The organization currently is putting together a strategic plan it hopes to complete by the end of the 2018 fiscal year that will offer an outlook on what its next steps are for the upcoming years. Aloha Harvest also will soon be strengthening its infrastructure by going digital, a move that will help delivery drivers and staff communicate while also keeping track of everything with ease. (Right now, for perspective, Aloha Harvest staff manually input data that includes where food donations are coming from and where it is going so that the organization can maintain its records.)

In the meantime, Aloha Harvest is looking to add to its transportation fleet with a refrigerated van drivers can use for smaller delivery loads instead of having to take out one of the organization’s two 16-foot refrigerated trucks. It also is in need of more drivers, and volunteers willing to help at events or in the office with administrative work—and, adds Williams, Aloha Harvest always is looking to grow the amount of donors it works with.

Williams, who has been with Aloha Harvest since 2004, says that her commitment to the organization comes simply from having the heart and commitment for the work it does.

“The most beneficial thing is that we’re making a difference for people who don’t have food,” she says. “We can provide that next meal for them that, otherwise, they wouldn’t know where it’s coming from.”

For more information on Aloha Harvest, visit alohaharvest.org.