Mayor Charmaine Tavares attended the kickoff of the “Give a HI-5 to Help the Hungry” program on Tuesday, March 16, at the Kīhei recycling facility off Welakahao Road. Residents and visitors now have the opportunity to redeem their HI-5 recyclable containers at any Maui Disposal Recycling Center and donate the proceeds to the Maui Food Bank. The funds will be used to purchase fresh produce from local farmers for people who would otherwise go hungry.
As a result, the county’s recycling program gets a boost, which in turn helps our environment; Maui Disposal raises awareness about its locations and services; critical funds are raised for the Maui Food Bank; local farmers are able to reach new markets; and most importantly, people in need of the most basic of necessities receive nutritious food.
The program begins at a critical time.
Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares donated recyclable HI-5 containers to the Maui Food Bank. The “Give a HI-5 to Help the Hungry” program kicked off March 16 at the Kīhei recycling facility off Welakahao Road.
“Currently, we are providing food to more than 11,000 people every month,” said Maui Food Bank Executive Director Richard Yust. “This is by far an all time high.”
Not surprisingly, Yust cites the economy as the main reason.
“Families are running out of their remaining resources,” he said. “Many are unemployed or have had their hours at work cut. As a result, we are seeing more and more working poor. They have eaten up their savings but still have to pay rent and utilities, so the main thing they cut out is food.”
The Maui Food Bank partners with about 90 local nonprofit and community service organizations, each of which pays a “shared maintenance fee” to shop for food items at the Food Bank’s 9,500-square-foot facility at the Wailuku Industrial Park, explained Yust. The fee formula is based on the amount of food utilized by the organization and averages about nine cents per pound, he said. The agencies distribute the food through pantries and serve meals at soup kitchens, shelters, homeless drop-in centers and mobile outreach programs.
While the Maui Food Bank does utilize cash contributions to purchase food items, the vast majority is donated through food drives, food distribution companies, wholesalers, retailers, restaurants and individuals.
Yust said that last year, the Maui Food Bank distributed about 1.5 million pounds of food to people in need on Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i. In addition, he said, “Ninety-three cents of every dollar donated goes directly to programs and services that benefit the hungry.”
And people who are at risk of going hungry may be closer to home than most of us realize.
“We discovered a group of kids from a local high school who were ‘dumpster diving,’ to find enough food to survive,” said Maui Food Bank Development Director Marlene Rice. “It was not unusual for them to go without food for two days. These were not drug addicts. In fact, one girl has a 4.0 grade point average.”
The Maui Food bank worked with a partner agency to make sure the students had access to appropriate foods and snacks.
“The girl told me that she takes a jar of peanut butter to bed with her,” said Rice. “She said that she sleeps better knowing she will wake up with something to eat.”
People who are hungry don’t always fit the stereotype, said Rice. “I met a man in his late 50s at Hale Kau Kau,” she said. The program offers free hot, nutritious meals to men, women and children in need at Saint Theresa Church in Kīhei. “He was very well-dressed, had a nice motorcycle and had been a member of the local carpenter’s union, but he had been out of work for two years. He couldn’t get social security, his unemployment had run out and there is no work. So, he sleeps at the beach and eats dinner every night at Hale Kau Kau.”
In addition to food distribution through partnerships, the Maui Food Bank also offers a Senior Mobile Pantry that distributes food at senior housing sites throughout Maui and the Kids Café, which through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, serves as many as 400 meals a week to youth participating in after school programs on Maui.
“Most people don’t realize we are also a disaster relief organization,” said Yust. “In the event of a disaster like we could have had with the recent tsunami, we would work with the Red Cross to supply food to various shelters.”
Yust urges everyone to donate through the new recycling program, and to contribute money or canned goods to food drives. The Maui Food Bank also accepts non-perishable food donations year-round at any Maui fire station. The most needed items are canned meats and tuna, cereals, canned soups, meals with protein, canned fruits, rice and canned vegetables.
“We are the only organization that provides this essential service, and we do it in a very cost-effective manner,” said Yust. “After all, it doesn’t get more basic than food.”