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Be the generosity you want to see in the world

OUR COUNTY

Traditionally Thanksgiving is a time to pause in gratitude to reflect on the many blessings received during the previous year. For Richard Yust, who runs Maui Food Bank, Thanksgiving is a time for compassion with a side order of anxiety.

Despite the familiar white food drive collection drums that appear at banks, offices and grocery stores this time of year, the folks at Maui Food Bank are concerned about families that still aren’t sure where their next meal will come from. Mr. Yust explains, “There’s still a lot of demand from people who were severely impacted by the pandemic. The greatest needs are in the Pacific Islands community and those who have since returned to work, but simply can’t afford the high cost of living here.”

Even though demand for Maui Food Bank’s services has dropped from a pandemic peak of 60,000 people per month, about 25,000 people still rely on their services every month. That’s about double the demand before COVID-19 came to town.

Recent supply chain disruptions and skyrocketing food prices further complicate the situation. With the holiday season quickly approaching, staff at the county’s largest food pantry are worried that some needy families might miss out on a traditional dinner this Thanksgiving and Christmas. They also acknowledge that the need for nutritious foods goes far beyond specific holidays.

Food insecure households are defined as those lacking sufficient food for an active, healthy life for all household members. A March 2021 study by the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, concluded that 48 percent of Hawai’i families with children are food insecure. The situation is even worse for low-income families that typically have less formal education and tend to live in more rural areas.

About 76 percent of these food-insecure families lost income due to COVID-19. Some breadwinners succumbed to the disease, other age earners contracted long COVID that prevents them from returning to work, while still others were laid off or had their hours cut back.

According to the Hawaii Food Bank, about 81,000 children, or one in four kids in our state, experience hunger in their homes. Some of these are Maui County families that have yet to recover from health and financial problems left in the pandemic’s wake.

Last year, my administration allocated $2.6 million of CARES Act money to Maui Food Bank in addition to funding other important feeding programs throughout the county. Currently, we are considering additional funding for Maui Food Bank through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in coming months. So, rest assured that government is responding, but sometimes it’s simply not fast enough to meet the immediate need.

The people of Maui County pulled together to help one another during the worst public health and economic crisis in our history. I am asking those who can, to please do it again.

If you are in a position to give nonperishable foods to Maui Food Bank, please drop your donation into one of their many food drive receptacles you see around town, including one on the ninth floor of the county building. The greatest need is for rice and canned meats, but canned vegetables, fruits, stuffing mix, instant mashed potatoes, canned condensed milk and similar items are also very welcome.

Maui Food Bank is planning to distribute more than 5,000 turkeys with all the fixings during the 2021 holiday season. However, unreliable supply chains could mean a canned ham gets substituted for a big bird.

These holiday food boxes, filled with 16 food items, can feed a family of four. They will be distributed to food insecure households throughout the holiday season. You can sponsor one of these boxes for a humble $20 donation — about the price of a decent bottle of wine. It’s simple and easy to do with just a few clicks of a mouse. Please visit mauifoodbank.org/donate.

This Thanksgiving, don’t just count your blessings, rather instead choose to be the blessing that your neighbors can count on. Happy holidays, everyone.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column alternates with “Council’s 3 Minutes” every other weekend.

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