A busy time for food pantries

Thursday, June 9th, 2011
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North Hawaii News

Like just about anywhere you look, the Big Island has men, women and child who go to bed each night hungry.

But a pair of Waimea food pantries are doing their part to help as the two combine to feed at least 400 families a month.

A needed service

Ann Lum has headed up Annunciation Catholic Church’s food pantry for several years and said she continues to see the number of families in need rise, especially ever since the economy took a turn for the worse three years ago. But somehow, they’ve managed to keep their head above water and their doors open.

“We do keep up with demand — we make that a priority,” she said. “The community is very helpful in that way.”

But it hasn’t been easy.

“If there is a recovery in the economy, it hasn’t hit our clientele yet,” Lum said. “The community has really rallied the last few years. We need to help these people because they’re part of our community. We have people who never thought they’d be getting food from a pantry but they are. That’s why we always need more food.”

For most pantries to survive, they have to rely upon the generosity of the public by way of food or monetary donations. Lum said donations are especially crucial this time of year. With kids out for summer, that means no reduced or free meals at school.

“The need always jumps in summer,” she said. “In May we fed 277 families which is a record for us. I anticipate all the pantries will be stretched this summer.”

Lum said they often receive vegetables from local farmers, especially those who take part in farmers’ markets in the area. But there’s always a need for rice, tuna, canned chicken, Spam and canned vegetables.

The pantry is open from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays. However, food can be dropped off at the church office or in the chapel. They ask that families come by no more than once a month.

“We’re not a grocery store. This is only enough food to last a few days,” she said. “We never know what to expect as far as the number of people who will come by each week. Last week we expected 20 families and got 71. It didn’t help that there were five Tuesdays in May.”

Lum said on average they feed around 210 to 220 families a month. Prior to May, their highest total was last November with 260 families fed. She said almost everything they have is brought in from donations — either from the public or the church’s parish. They are a member of the Hawaii Island Food Bank but have yet to utilize its services.

“Any donation is important,” she said. “Whether it’s a couple cans of tuna or a 100 pounds of rice — it all helps.”

Something new

Beginning July 1, the longtime food pantry at New Hope Church will not only have a new name, it will also have a new location.

A non-profit group called Kokua Christian Ministries will be leasing the building behind Imiola Church and will not be affiliated with any one particular church.

“It’s going to be a big year for us,” said pantry coordinator Johanna Reeves. “We want to reach even more people. Some people need more than food — some just need a cup of coffee and a shoulder to cry on.”

Their plan is to be open five days a week — three morning and two afternoons — in order to meet the growing demand. And, two of those days they plan to offer a hot meal. Beginning in July they will be open Tuesdays from 4-7 p.m. and 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. But until then, they’ll be busy fixing up the new building.

“It’s not going to be posh but it will do,” she said of the new location. “We’ve very excited about it.”

Reeves said they spend around $1,200 a month (which comes from donations) on food which feeds an average of 50 families a week.

“Sadly, donations are pretty quiet right now,” Reeves said. “Our goal now is to get the word out as to who we are because there’s a misconception that we’re associated with just one church and that’s not true. This is going to be a community effort.”

For a family of four, both pantries have a similar list of items that are given out. These include rice, protein such as canned tuna, chicken or Spam, beans, pasta or spaghetti and ramen. Other items often include bread, soups, cereal as well as canned fruit and vegetables. And like Annunciation, New Hope (and soon Kokua Christian Ministries), falls under the Hawaii island Food Bank umbrella but Reeves said they get very little from there.

Reeves said to her knowledge their numbers have not increased in the summers but added that donations do increase greatly around the holidays.

“People are very giving around Christmas but people need to remember there are 52 weeks in a year,” she said. “Hunger isn’t just a problem around the holidays. In fact, we see less people around that time of the year because those in need are getting help from other sources.”

For more information contact Lum at 885-0879 or for Kokua Christian Ministries call 443-9138 or 315-5006.

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