With unemployment rising across the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, food distribution programs are struggling to meet demand.
“We have done more in one month than we did in a typical six months,” Kristin Albrecht, executive director of The Food Basket, said Thursday.
In order to support the thousands of Big Island residents who suddenly find themselves without income when an insignificant business closes in March, The Food Basket has conducted more than 30 “Ohana Drops” – drive-through food distribution events – with the help of Hawaiian police and the Hawaii Fire and National Guard department since COVID-19 locking began, Albrecht said.
Ohana Drops were very successful: Albrecht said that each attracted around 800 to 2,500 individuals. The April Ohana Drop in Kona serves more than 50,000 pounds of food.
However, Albrecht said the current rate of food distribution might not be sustainable in the long run. Because everyone can buy food through Ohana Drops – “What we ask is that people claim they need it,” Albrecht said – and because Food Baskets cannot accept food donations for hygiene reasons – coronaviruses can survive on the surface – continuing Ohana Drops are expensive, he said.
“We are really lucky now with our local philanthropic community,” Albrecht said. “I don’t see this being sustainable in the long term, but hopefully in a few months we will be able to receive regular donations again.”
Other food distribution programs have the same concerns for the future.
The Boys and Girls Club on Big Island has distributed free food to families about five days a week since mid-March.
Using kitchens in Hilo and Kona, the club sends more than 800 meals a day, and surpasses 30,000 shipments on Thursday. However, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club Chad Cabral said the program came at a significant cost.
“We estimate that each meal will cost around $ 5.50,” Cabral said. “So, with more than 30,000 meals, that’s a big loss for us, financially.”
Based on Cabral’s estimates, the program has cost at least $ 165,000 since it began.
Thanks to partnerships and grants, Cabral said the Boys and Girls Club was able to continue the food delivery program until the end of July.
“Hopefully in August, schools may be reopened so that children will be able to get lunch at school again,” Cabral said.
However, Cabral said the program will continue as long as possible, and does not appear to have plans to reduce it in the near future. The Boys and Girls Club has even recruited additional staff for the program, hiring former hotel restaurant workers to prepare and deliver food.
Cabral said maintaining the program was hard work, but also “hard work.”
“I am fortunate that we have so many dedicated employees who have the heart to help children,” Cabral said. “They see the struggle that they went through, and they work tirelessly because of it. That’s the only reason why we can produce a lot of this food. “
The club will also hold summer programs as usual until June and July – although in conditions modified to reduce the spread of COVID-19 – free of charge. Cabral said 50 availability slots for the two-month program, each of which would normally cost around $ 600, were filled in as soon as the program was announced.
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