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The Food Basket sees major increase in demand for food since onset of pandemic

More than 230 vehicles, many with individuals from multiple families, made their way through The Food Basket’s first Ohana Drop last week in Pahala.

Need for assistance has increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to higher unemployment rates and uncertainty for many.

Kristin Frost Albrecht, executive director of Hawaii Island’s food bank, said calls to The Food Basket have tripled since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Calls come in day and night, and a number of people are reaching out by email, she said.

“I think that it’s the most we’ve ever seen,” said Albrecht.

The demand for food is even greater than other disasters such as eruptions, Hurricane Lane and partial government shutdowns, because so many people have been laid off or furloughed in recent weeks, she said.

Albrecht said there are “a lot of first-time folks coming through looking for food, and that’s always heartbreaking.”

Ohana Drops — a drive-through operation in which participants remain in their cars and provide information to food bank staff and volunteers through signage and hand motions — replaces The Food Basket’s normal “high touch” distributions as an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The Food Basket is trying to provide 14 days worth of food per person. Individuals will receive fresh, locally grown produce, nonperishable food and a ready-to-eat frozen meal from Liko Lehua Cafe.

Food will be placed in trunks by staff or volunteers to minimize contact.

Albrecht said people can just drive up to the sites but are asked to self-declare that they’ve been impacted by COVID-19 and need help.

The food bank is attempting to estimate how many people will come to each drop site, but if food supplies run out “we will do our best to somehow get information from everybody that hasn’t received (food) and get food to them,” Albrecht said. “Parts of this we’re still figuring out.”

Volunteers and staff undergo safety training before doing an Ohana Drop or Kupuna Pantry event, and those assisting are practicing social distancing within work sites and with clientele, according to Albrecht.

Gloves and hand-washing stations are available, as is hand sanitizer, and some employees are wearing masks.

Albrecht said the organization is following best practice guidelines from Feeding America, a national food bank network, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Food Basket’s Kupuna Pantry program also will continue as scheduled, with drive-through and park-and-serve options available depending on the site.

Home delivery of emergency food will be available on a limited basis for those with chronic health issues, those in quarantine or people who have limited transportation.

Those who are in need of food can call The Food Basket at 933-6030 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekdays for information about which community food pantries are open and when.

According to Albrecht, the food bank is not accepting food donations at this time, but monetary donations can be made online at hawaiifoodbasket.org.

Upcoming Ohana Drops will be from 10 a.m.-noon at the following locations:

• April 6, Naalehu Hongwanji Mission.

• April 7, Keaau High School.

• April 8, Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, Hilo, and Church Road, Waimea.

• April 14, Oceanview Community Center.

• April 17, Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area and Pahoa Community Center.

• April 20, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Hawi.

More sites and times can be found at hawaiifoodbasket.org.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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