For 20 years, Tommy Kahikina Ching has been on a mission to feed the hungry on our island.
On Wednesday, at five KTA Super Store locations, he kicked off his annual 10-day islandwide Feed-A-Thon to stock the shelves at The Food Basket, Hawaii Island’s food bank.
Standing in front of the Kailua-Kona KTA, the local celebrity encouraged shoppers to give what they can.
“Every dollar helps feed our neighbors,” he announced through a loud speaker as Lions Club members held out nets to collect donations from passing motorists.
“What we are finding is the need for food is up 30% this year,” said Kristin Frost Albrect, Food Basket executive director. She said the food bank ran out of food twice this year, but the community has a history of stepping up to fill their shelves.
“This drive is at the perfect time. It gets us through spring,” she said.
Frost Albrect said The Food Basket distributed more than 3 million pounds of food this past year, more than 100,000 pounds a month, feeding 14,000 families.
“As the cost of living keeps going up, so does the need,” she said.
Ching said the food drive had a good start Wednesday morning with a visitor from Michigan dropping off a $500 check.
“He comes every year and was waiting for us to kick off so he could donate,” Ching said.
“It’s been awesome,” Frost Albrect said. “People come back year after year. It’s like old home week.”
She credited Ching for making the commitment 20 years ago to travel the island to support the community.
“Twenty years — that’s 200 days Tommy has dedicated to The Food Basket,” she said noting he also solicits and secures donations for a silent auction.
This year, a generous community member donated a clean 2005 Honda Civic. Bidding started at just $300.
Other items up for bid include golf, snorkel cruises, jewelry and more. Ching said it’s not too late for anyone who still wants to donate merchandise or services for the silent auction.
“Just bring it down,” he said.
Ace Hardware donated $4,000 worth of merchandise to be auctioned off as well, including a 270-quart Aussie cooler that will be given away to a lucky number drawing winner. A donation will earn an individual a ticket for the drawing.
Ching encourages other island merchants to make tax deductible donation, and any interested individuals or service groups to volunteer their time at any of his stops around the island.
“I see the problems our island has, but hunger shouldn’t be one of them,” Ching said. “If the economy is good for you, let’s see some donations. Are you doing well? There’s people who are not.”
Ching said for every dollar donated they are able to purchase 3 pounds of food, thanks to KTA selling them the food at wholesale pricing.
This year Ching is reaching out to people who don’t usually contribute to the Feed-A-Thon by placing donation boxes at Umekes, Queen K 76 gas station and Kona Marine Supply. He encourages any other businesses around the island interested in hosting a box to contact the Food Basket.
Donations can also be made by visiting hawaiifoodbasket.org.
“I see the same people every year. This year I’m trying to reach new people,” he said, adding every dollar donation counts toward his 100,000 pound goal.
Ching praised KTA for being the host location for the food drive all 20 years.
“KTA is what makes this work,” he said.
“It’s been 20 years and the problem is 20 times greater,” Ching said. “Let’s do this.”
Ching continues the drive today from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Kailua-Kona KTA and makes his way around the island with stops in Waikoloa on Feb. 14-15, Waimea on Feb. 16-17, Puainako Feb. 18-19 and wrapping up in Keauhou on Feb.20-21. A grand finale celebration is planned for the last day of the drive with music and entertainment.