Fewer people in West Hawaii are turning out for The Food Basket’s monthly food drop, however, the nonprofit has a new worry to keep an eye on as the Big Island rebounds from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re definitely seeing the numbers going down, but our biggest concern now is the price of food increasing,” said Kristin Frost Albrecht, executive director of The Food Basket.
According to the federal Department of Labor, which only keeps data for urban Honolulu, overall food prices in Hawaii were up 6.4% in March over the year prior. Prices for food at home (groceries) was up 9.5%, influenced by higher prices for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs (17.3%) and other food at home (11.5%).
During April and May, food prices rose another 1.7%, according to the department. The department’s website was down for maintenance on Friday, making additional data unavailable until at least Tuesday.
“Hopefully, that won’t last a long time,” Frost Albrecht said of the increases, noting the impact has been seen most in the cost of proteins.
The Food Basket, the Big Island’s lone food bank, has been holding Ohana Food Drops for more than a year, and is in the process of scaling down the operation. Last month, the nonprofit held five drops, down from a high of 15, and served 4,300 families or about 18,787 individuals.
For Friday’s Ohana Food Drop, The Food Basket planned for about 600 families, with about several hundred showing up at the Old Kona Airport Park in Kailua-Kona.
No date has been set for ending the program, which has served thousands of Big Island families since it got underway in April 2020, Frost Albrecht said. The nonprofit is continually assessing where the greatest needs are.
“We’re continuing to assess where we’re at with the numbers — Kona has dropped again significantly but we’ve actually increased a bit on the Hilo side,” said Frost Albrecht, explaining that it seems some families have chosen to have parent stay home rather than return to work while the kids are out of school. “A lot of different factors at play.”
Two more Ohana Food Drops are slated this month: June 25 at Pahoa Community Center in Puna and June 29 at Naalehu Hongwanji in Ka‘u. In July, four drops will be held: July 2 at Waimea District Park, July 14 at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo, July 23 at Old Kona Airport Park in Kailua-Kona, and July 27 at Naalehu Hongwanji.
During normal operations, The Food Basket aggregates food, and its 150 partners distribute it to those in need via community food pantries or soup kitchens. With those partners getting back to normal, The Food Basket is encouraging people to return to those community-based sources.
Monetary donations can be made to The Food Basket online at www.hawaiifoodbasket.org, and the organization is accepting donations of unopened foods to be distributed.
“We have a particular need for keiki-based food, we’re getting a lot of requests for things around kids being at home,” Frost-Albrecht said. “Keiki food” includes pop-top soups and canned meals and fresh foods that are easy to eat like tangerines and bananas. Rice is another popular item that also helps a family stretch their food budget.
And anyone who’s been growing extra food in their yard during the pandemic can contribute those home-grown foods as well.
“We know a lot of people have been growing food during this pandemic,” Frost Albrecht said. “It will leave our premises immediately — we can’t get enough fresh food.”