KAILUA-KONA — More than 70,000 pounds of food in 10 days. That’s 37 tons going to feed Big Island hungry families.
It is the goal Tommy “Kahikina” Ching has set for this year’s Feed-A-Thon, an annual fundraising campaign that benefits the Hawaii Food Basket.
This year, an anonymous donor offered to help Ching hit that goal — should he reach certain thresholds, that is.
The mood was festive on Wednesday, the first day of Ching’s 10-day tour of KTA Super Stores around the island.
A steady stream of people stopped by the parking lot tent at the Kailua-Kona store to say aloha, offer bags of rice, canned goods, nonperishable items and cash. Ching greeted them all with his infectious smile and outgoing personality, along with a lot of hugs and shakas.
A woman approached and placed $100 in the donation jar.
“Chicken skin. The hairs on my arm have been standing up the whole morning,” said Ching, who went on to say how much he appreciates the whole community coming together to help the important cause.
This is Ching’s 17th year circling Hawaii Island, collecting food and donations along the way. By the end of this year’s tour, he will have logged 1,700 hours, excluding travel time, in his quest to help feed the island’s hungry.
Kristin Frost Albrecht, Hawaii Food Basket executive director, praised Ching for leaving his job for 10 days a year, all to help needy families.
“There’s a lot of increase in need. We are up 14 percent from last year,” said Albrecht of the number of people requesting food. “We see a lot of working families who have to make the decision of food on the table or pay rent, and you need a roof over your head so…”
“With 75 percent of our island school children on free or reduced lunch, there’s a need,” she added.
Marshall Akamu, Hawaii Food Basket Kona Warehouse manager, said the shelves in West Hawaii get pretty bare this time of year. Donations are strong during the holidays, but then it dries up. He added volunteers are still needed at each KTA location.
That makes this food drive timely.
This year, an anonymous donor, whom Ching refers to as “The Hunger Angel” challenged the community. For every day Ching collects $1,000 or 3,000 pounds or more of food, the Angel will donate $1,000. If he meets that goal all 10 days of the fundraiser, another $5,000 will be kicked in.
The gauntlet has been thrown down. The challenge is on. And on Wednesday, the first day of the drive, the goal was met by 2 p.m.
“We’re kicking it,” Ching said of hitting the goal early. “The challenge is on for tomorrow.”
As lunchtime traffic backed up in the Kona Coast Shopping Center, Ching grabbed his scoop net and headed to the line of cars waiting at the red light on Palani Road. Another donor dropped $100 in his net. He did a celebration dance, confident that at that pace, he would meet his daily goal, which, of course, he did.
Every dollar collected will buy 3 pounds of food. Ching said KTA sells the food at wholesale prices, getting more bang for the buck.
“KTA has been supporting us all this time. They are a part of the community so we wanted to support them by purchasing the food from them,” said Ching.
A traveling silent auction is new this year. Items including jewelry, helicopter rides, and food can be bid on as Ching moves from location to location.
The grand finale at KTA Super Stores in Keauhou on Feb. 23 will include entertainment.
“This community has heart,” said Albrecht. “And the community heart will keep us strong.”
Ching will be at the following KTA locations from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.:
• Today in Kailua-Kona
• Feb. 16-17 in Waikoloa
• Feb. 18-19 in Waimea
• Feb. 20-21 in Puainako
• Feb. 22-23 in Keauhou