Food Basket to receive nearly $1M to help low-income families

  • Executive director Kristin Frost Albrecht is pictured Dec. 20, 2018, with items from The Food Basket, Hawaii Island’s food bank. (Tribune-Herald/file photo)

HILO — The Food Basket, Hawaii Island’s food bank, will receive nearly $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help more low-income families throughout Hawaii access locally grown produce and healthy food, it was announced Wednesday.

The Food Basket will use the $985,652 USDA grant to build on its Da Bux program.

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Da Bux is a fresh food nutrition incentive program that currently allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants receive 50% off qualifying Hawaii Island-grown fruits and vegetables at KTA Super Stores. The Da Bux program also can be accessed through a community supported agriculture program called “Da Box” and a mobile market, “Da Bus.”

The aim of the Da Bux program is to improve access to healthy, nutritious food for low-income individuals and “kind of looking upstream to improve food security for Hawaii Island,” said Kristin Frost Albrecht, executive director of The Food Basket.

“Of course we’re thrilled,” she said about the USDA grant.

According to Albrecht, The Food Basket partnered on the grant with the Hawaii Good Food Alliance, a statewide organization with members on Oahu, Molokai and Kauai, some of whom have “double up” programs similar to Da Bux.

Those partners will help mentor new retail outlets to implement the Da Bux program in their county to provide discounts on Hawaii-grown produce, she said.

In addition to the federal funding, Albrecht said nearly $1 million in matching funds, cash and in-kind, were collected throughout the state.

Nearly $1 million of the total funds will be used to implement the incentive at qualified grocery stores, farmers markets, farm stands and with community supported agriculture programs and mobile markets, said Albrecht.

Earlier this year, Gov. David Ige signed Act 153 into law, which Albrecht said required someone to seek matching USDA funds and included $50,000 a year for two years to support a statewide nutrition incentive program.

“We just stepped up to write the grant,” Albrecht said. “This is a true community partnership with Hawaii Good Food Alliance and our community partners.”

It’s important because Hawaii is a state that’s 2,500 miles away from a continent and 85% of the food is imported, she said.

Because of natural disasters on the Big Island and Kauai last year, “we really recognize how critical it is to build food security in the state, to be able to feed ourselves from our state. That’s really the big picture. … Our mission is to end hunger (and we) feel this is really a critical way to do that.”

Albrecht said the hope is to have another statewide grocer in place by Jan. 1, 2020, along with several farmers markets, community support agriculture programs and mobile markets.

“This new federal funding means more people in Hawaii will be able to put healthy, locally grown food on their tables, helping both local farmers and families in need,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a news release announcing the funding.

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In June, Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, urged the USDA to approve The Food Basket’s grant application, citing the critical work the agency has done for Hawaii Island residents.

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

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