Hawaii Foodbank’s quest to provide food for those in need

IMAGINE TRYING TO FILL A FUNNEL UNTIL IT’S FULL. THAT’S THE CHALLENGE THE HAWAII FACES EVERY DAY…”I WISH YOU COULD SEE THE WAREHOUSE in the morning,” says Dick Grimm, Hawaii Foodbank president. He walks through the organization’s Mapunapuna warehouse, pointing out sections reserved for fresh produce, canned meats and more. In the mornings, the shelves are full-well, full-er-and the place is a flurry of activity. That’s when the foodbank’s trucks are loaded up and sent on their way to various destinations and distribution sites.

There’s a fleet of refrigerated trucks, vans and a flatbed, and the drivers come in at six in the morning, head out to pick up donations from retailers, wholesalers and growers. The bounty is brought back to the warehouse and the staff takes over: salvaging, sorting and loading up those same trucks for deliveries to the Hawaii Foodbank’s ohana drops that are run by its partner agencies. Then, the next day, it happens all over again.

Grimm’s goal is to have a 21-day supply of food stocked in the warehouse. On this particular day, it’s at a 10-day supply.

Though it seems that this never-ending cycle, it’s a cycle that’s pared down to its most efficient components-exactly how Grimm and the people at Hawaii Foodbank want it.

“If you don’t have a positive bottom line, you’re not going to be around,” Grimm says of what he sees as the key to being successful in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors.

However, with the non-profit sector, the stakes are a little different. If that bottom line doesn’t add, “you’re not going to be able to help those people, be there for them. And so, you have to run it like a business,” Grimm adds.

He stresses that while operations are run like a business, it’s all done with compassion. “All I want to do is get the food in, and get the food out, simple as that,” he says. “We are not in the business of helping people to better themselves. We want to make sure they have the food and energy so that they can take that step. We want the kids to have food so they don’t forget what they’re being taught, they don’t fall asleep, they don’t sit there and fantasize about getting hot dogs … that’s what we do.”

The Hawaii Foodbank was incorporated in December of 1982, its umbrella organization is Feeding America. In addition to the people the foodbank serves on O’ahu, it just completed its first full year of operation on Kaua’i in 2012, having distributed 580,000 pounds of food on the Garden Isle. Hawai’i Island and Maui are also serviced via Partner Distribution Organizations (PDO’s).

Partnerships are key to achieving the mission of the Hawaii Foodbank, and there are close to 250 member agencies on O’ahu and Kaua’i.

“This is a symbiotic relationship, and it’s terrific,” Grimm explains. “We could not do our jobs without the agencies. The agencies couldn’t do their jobs as well as they do without us.”

Joe Hunkin, Senior Pastor at the Lighthouse Outreach Center agrees. “It’s a big help,” he says, explaining that there’s no way that the organization could get the amount of food that the Hawaii Foodbank provides at the same prices elsewhere. “The food bank is a channel that flows blessings to us.”

Ana Iose, the meal program manager at Institute for Human Services (I.H.S.) agrees. Like Grimm, she’s constantly reviewing her food inventory. “We prep 300 meals every day,” she says. Those meals are served to the I.H.S. residents as well as people who may come in off; the street for a meal. For her, she loves the fact that she can get fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and proteins from the foodbank.

“When I find out they have chicken, sausage or meat, I head there and grab pallets,” she explains.

Iose’s not alone. Grimm says that the proteins, including canned luncheon meat, tuna and more are a premium for the bank. “The most expensive part of the food pyramid is the protein,” he says. About a decade ago, Grimm saw that there needed to be ways to allow the agencies to raise monies while also raising monies for the Hawaii Foodbank to subsidize the cost of the food for them. That’s when the Hunger Walk was founded.

In addition to the Hunger Walk, other fundraisers include the Annual Golf Classic, Annual Statewide Food Drive and the newly launched Great Chefs Fight Hunger. In addition to these fundraisers, there are food-raisers including Canstruction and the National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive.

Grimm points out that as the needs have grown and changed, the Hawaii Foodbank has had to adapt. In 2012, 26 percent of the food came from purchases the foodbank made, while years ago, it used to be just one percent. And, as the years have gone by, the populations that the foodbank serves has grown. According to the 2006 “Hunger in Hawaii” survey, in 2005, there were 131,862 people served statewide, 25 percent of which were children under the age of 18. In 2010 (the last year with data), 183,500 people were served statewide, and 30 percent of those were children under 18 years old. The income levels have worsened as well. In 2005, 70 percent of the people served were earning below the poverty level. In 2010, the number grew to 79 percent.

Those numbers sharpen Grimm’s focus on the fundraising and leveraging of what’s brought in for the foodbank.

“We get great help from corporations, businesses and foundations,” Grimm says. He also points out that while community food drives account for eight percent of the foodbank’s total donations, “It’s the community food drives [that bring in] the quality stuoff-we get cans,” he stresses.

Thanks to the Hawaii Food-bank’s continuous strive to meet the community’s needs, those agencies that help those in need are able to expand their scope as well.

“When we started 15 years ago, we were feeding seven families a month,” says Jeremy Seick, director of Outreaches for Surf the Nations. “Now, we can feed 2,000 families a month.” Seick adds that Surf the Nations is able to distribute 30,000 pounds of food each week through their sites in Kalihi and Wahiawa.

“Honestly, without the Hawaii Foodbank, it wouldn’t be possible.”