‘Somebody steps up and provides’

HILO — The Food Basket, Hawaii Island’s food bank, collected more than 240,000 pounds of food, water and supplies from nearly four dozen organizations to aid those affected by this year’s lower East Rift Zone eruption of Kilauea volcano, according to a lava disaster report recently released by the nonprofit.

By Sept. 30, 240,777 pounds of donated goods were collected from 46 businesses, groups and other donors, and 191,055 pounds were distributed.

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The eruption destroyed more than 700 homes since it began in May in Leilani Estates, and continued with vigor until early August, when lava flows began to cease.

“When the 2018 lower Puna eruption started on May 3, relief efforts became the core program of The Food Basket,” the report reads. “Most of the organization’s resources — personnel, vehicles and facilities were directed to this emergency effort. Food banking operations continued to serve the needs of the community; however, normal fundraising, grant writing and program development were largely put on hold. Most staff worked long hours and weekends in order to keep up with the needs of the lava-affected communities.”

The report also details the items received: nonperishables, fresh produce, meats and water, as well as supplies like solar lights, hygiene and camping items, buckets and animal-care supplies, among other goods.

Donations were accepted by the Food Basket in both Hilo and Kailua-Kona and were distributed through more than 106 partner agencies around the island.

“Items came in and went out quickly,” the report reads. “Nearly 215,000 pounds of food, water and supplies were distributed to partner agencies, shelters, distribution centers and walk-in lava-affected evacuees.”

The Food Basket served the entire affected area, but it worked closely with two main distribution sites, including the Salvation Army’s distribution center, near the emergency shelter established in Pahoa, and the Bodacious Women of Pahoa food pantry and disaster relief distribution site, set up at the Nanawale Community Association Center, adjacent to Leilani Estates, according to the report.

Although the eruption stopped, the impact remains as the community continues to recover.

Executive director Kristin Frost Albrecht said the Food Basket just completed meetings around the island with all 136 of its partner agencies, and they have seen approximately a “30 percent increase in need since the lava happened. It’s really been impactful.”

Last year, Albrecht said, the Food Basket served 13,700 people per month, but now is serving more than 14,000.

“I have to say our community is amazing,” said Albrecht. “… It seems like every time we think we’re going to be out of food, somebody steps up and provides.”

There was “such amazing support” during not only the lava event and Hurricane Lane, but through regular times as well, she said.

There was some concern that the organization would have to “come up with the money to buy food” during the recovery period, which it did for keiki backpacks distributed to island students, but Albrecht said everything else has been donated.

“Everything that’s coming in is going out, but we have a very steady stream coming in,” she said.

Donations are still needed, however.

“We can always use more help because the need has continually increased, especially during the holiday season when we have families come in because they really are struggling …,” Albrecht said.

Even without the disaster, Albrecht said the Food Basket typically sees an uptick in need during the holidays.

According to Albrecht, the Food Basket “always, always, always” needs more canned protein, like canned tuna or chicken, as well as canned meals like stews or chili, and other nonperishables like canned fruits and vegetables, and rice.

The organization also can use donations of juice and milk, as well as fresh produce.

“(We) want to make sure everybody has access to quality healthy foods at all times,” Albrecht said.

She thanked everyone who has helped the Food Bank and other nonprofits.

“Especially with the disaster this year, it really has been so heartwarming to see how people take care of their neighbors, their families, their friends. I think we’re so lucky.”

The full report can be found online at hawaiifoodbasket.org.

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Those interested in donating food can drop donations off at the Food Basket warehouses, located at 40 Holomua St. in Hilo or 73-4161 Ulu Wini Place in Kailua-Kona. Money can be donated online at hawaiifoodbasket.org, in person, or over the phone by calling 933-6030.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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