Six million pounds of food given in pandemic

Maui Food Bank doubles yearly totals in just nine months

Maui Food Bank warehouse workers Devin Weldon (left) and Siu Sherits load canned goods into food boxes at the Wailuku facility Wednesday afternoon. The food bank and its partner agencies have given out 6 million pounds of food since the pandemic began in March — more than twice as much as it usually does in a typical year. The Maui News MATTHEW THAYER photo

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, leaving thousands out of work, the Maui Food Bank and its partner agencies have given out 6 million pounds of food in just nine months, more than twice what they normally distribute in a year.

“Typically in normal year, we don’t even do 3 million pounds,” Executive Director Richard Yust said Wednesday.

Last year, the food bank gave out 2.7 million pounds of food, he added.

Yust and Keith Wright, director of operations, and Marlene Rice, development director, said that the numbers are of course unprecedented due to COVID-19. They shared stories of people selling their cars and dipping into their 401(k) to make ends meet. Everyday residents who wouldn’t usually need help are now living in their cars and need assistance.

“They are making lifestyle adjustments that maybe people (usually) don’t make,” Wright said.

Rice said the number of people they serve each month has gone beyond 45,000 as the pandemic drags on. In 2019, the food bank served about 10,000 people per month on average.

With thousands of turkeys and holiday box meal kits given out for Thanksgiving, the food bank is now looking towards Christmas and even into New Year’s, especially with some public assistance programs coming to an end.

Food bank officials said that with the pandemic, there are fewer physical holiday and annual food drives than in the past.

A Maui Food Bank spring food drive was canceled and the 28th annual Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive in May was postponed due to COVID.

But organizations and businesses have been still thinking of other fundraisers to assist, such as Aubrey Hord of Aubrey Hord Photography, who has introduced “Stuff the Studio,” an initiative of the Maui Headshot Project, to benefit the Maui Food Bank.

Participants can donate to the Maui Food Bank through a special link at mauifoodbank.org/

virtual-food-drive/. Once finished, they can email receipts to Aubrey Hord Photography to book a professional, in-studio, headshot session at a special rate of $99 by Dec. 31. The full retail price is $199. For more information, visit aubreyhord.com/headshots.

Hord said that the project “was designed to provide local professionals, especially those who may be pivoting in their careers, with an opportunity to receive a headshot at an exclusive price while raising funds for Maui Food Bank during this most critical time.”

The food bank also has been hit by other changes brought on by COVID-19, such as retailers not bringing in as many items as they have in the past and supply chains scaling back, Yust explained. The amount of food products the food bank used to receive from retailers is down by about 70 percent.

Yust said that the food bank has received $1 million of the federal CARES Act funding provided to the state and about $2.6 million from the CARES funding given to the county, most of which it has spent already. Congress requires CARES Act funding to cover coronavirus-related expenses incurred from March 1 to Dec. 30.

The programs and distributions that the food bank administers can be costly. One month, large weekly distributions of food by five churches cost upward of $280,000, Yust pointed out.

The nonprofit also uses its funds to buy goods from “20-plus” local farmers, as well as local distributors like Kanemitsu Bakery on Molokai and the Blue Ginger Cafe on Lanai.

“We are trying to keep as much of the funds in Maui County and support Maui (businesses) by buying local,” Yust said.

Rice said food donations are always welcome from the public, but to save space — as storage is hard to find — and to reduce face-to-face interactions, people can make a donation online or find other ways to contribute at mauifoodbank.org.

To assist with the ever-growing needs of the island community, the Maui Food Bank needed to rent an additional 10,000 square feet so they have more space to store goods and sort items, rather than just using their office and warehouse in Wailuku. The nonprofit’s staff grew from 13 to 14, with some working seven days a week and nights to ensure needs were met, including Wright, who praised the staff.

“They have just been unbelievable,” he said.

The food bank is also able to fill the stomachs of Maui’s needy with the help of community volunteers — 956 helping with food distribution and putting in 8,393 hours just this month alone, Rice said. Churches that never did food distributions in the past have stepped up to do them on a weekly basis for months throughout the pandemic, including King’s Cathedral Maui, Kihei Baptist Chapel, Lahaina Baptist Church, Citizen Church Maui and Waipuna Chapel, Wright said.

Binhi At Ani, a nonprofit in Kahului, has also been doing periodic food distributions.

Wright added that Calvary Chapel South Maui, which has a food pantry program, went from operating three times a week to seven days at week at one point. It has since reduced to five days, as church services have resumed on the weekends.

“I have very strong volunteers,” said Coleen Rishovd, director of Calvary Chapel South Maui’s Food Pantry, which has been operating for eight years.

The program’s volunteers have grown from 12 to 95, and its single food pantry room has now expanded to the church. The amount of nonperishable groceries given out per week has grown by a couple thousand pounds, and now the pantry also gives out close to 3,000 pounds of produce a week, which they didn’t offer in the past. The pantry has purchased three large refrigerators and extra shelving to store all the food and keep it fresh, Rishovd said.

The pantry caters to both sheltered and unsheltered individuals with ready-made food items such as energy bars or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for people who don’t have a stove.

The needs are real, she said, as they have a new family register for food every week. She thanked the food bank and the community for helping out.

The pantry’s hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Families receiving food need identification.

“We are so grateful to be here to minister in this way to our island,” Rishovd said. “If we can help take one bill off of their back and provide food, especially for their children, that gives so much relief and comfort for their parents.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.


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