Maui Food Bank facing a shortage

Stocks low due to holidays, federal shutdown and pending shipment

A set of shelves sits empty at the Maui Food Bank warehouse in Wailuku. Stocks are depleted at the food bank after the usual holiday rush and the 35-day federal government shutdown. The food bank is also in between shipments; the next one arrives the first week of April. Maui Food Bank photo

The Maui Food Bank’s stocks are running low following a spike in demand during the federal government shutdown and the usual rush of the holiday season.

Development Director Marlene Rice said the food bank is down to a 15-day supply of food and several aisles of shelves are empty — a rarity at the well-stocked warehouse in Wailuku.

“Right now we’re in between containers,” Rice said Sunday. “Also because of what was happening with the federal workers, we were doing a lot of distribution. We did distribution at the airport. We also opened it up for any federal workers to come to the food bank. . . . So that’s one of the reasons that we’re low right now.”

Every year, the nonprofit orders five containers of food from the Mainland, Rice said. Each container weighs about 40,000 pounds, and combined with the supplies already in the warehouse from local food drives, farmers and bakeries, that will usually last for about six weeks or longer. But the food bank is currently in between containers; the next one isn’t supposed to come until the first week of April. With a 15-day supply left over, that’s cutting it close.

The food bank is also coming off the heels of its holiday season, the busiest time of the year. Most days, the nonprofit doles out about 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of food a day, Monday through Friday. During the holiday season, that goes up to 12,000 pounds a day.

“Right now the shelves are pretty empty because of everything we’ve been doing in the last two months that we normally wouldn’t do,” Rice said.

Throughout the year, the food bank offers much-needed supplies to “families, kids, the working poor, seniors on fixed incomes, the homeless and anyone who is at risk of going hungry” in Maui County. The food bank works with 150 agencies and programs, such as the Salvation Army, Hale Kau Kau and Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center.

Workers also distribute food to low-income neighborhoods and senior living residences. So far this school year, the food bank has also passed out 199,000 meals to students through its Aloha Backpack Buddies program.

“It’s always in motion,” Rice said. “Food is going out the door every day. . . . Our goal is to feed the hungry, and it never ends.”

When Rice came to the food bank 13 years ago, the nonprofit coordinated maybe 11 food drives a year, she said. Now it benefits from more than 1,000 drives that are mostly organized by local businesses, schools and places of worship. Rice said the food bank tries to make it a point to purchase healthier items, such as brown rice or canned fruits without corn syrup or sugar.

But while canned goods are a popular donation, they aren’t the only items at food bank. The nonprofit also distributes bakery items, dairy products, proteins and about 400,000 pounds of fresh produce a year. Most vegetables are purchased from local farmers, but some fruits, such as apples, are ordered from the Mainland, Rice said. People are also starting to donate more organic food.

The warehouse also features pet food, baby food and items like diapers and formula, and recently the food bank sent out postcards to all local dentists asking for sample dental products that can be passed out to the homeless.

Until the next shipment of items comes in, the food bank is counting on the current supply and future donations. Workers can go to Costco and order supplies in a pinch, but Rice said it’s cheaper to order in bulk from the Mainland, specifically the Second Harvest Food Bank Middle Tennessee, which specializes in distributing to food banks.

Rice said monetary donations are always helpful, and people can hold food drives of their own if they’d like.

“People ask, is it better to purchase food or do food drives?” she said. “They’re both really important. When we do food drives or anybody in the community does food drives for us, it brings in a nice big variety of food, and that supplements the pallets of food that we purchase from the Mainland.”

To donate or to learn how to set up a food drive, call 243-9500 or visit mauifoodbank.org. The food bank will drop off and pick up materials for drives if they’re expected to weigh more than 100 pounds. Food items can also be brought to the warehouse at 760 Kolu St. in Wailuku, any time between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, except on holidays. They can also be taken to special drop-off locations at all local fire stations or cooperating businesses and churches. For a full list of locations, visit mauifoodbank.org/food-drop-off-locations.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.


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