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‘Unprecedented And Frankly Scary’: Food Basket Experiencing Severe Food Shortage

By Nathan Christophel
July 1, 2022, 12:14 PM HST
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The shelves at one of The Food Basket warehouse facility are bare because of a severe food shortage because of supply chain issues with The Emergency Food Assistance Program of the USDA. (Photos courtesy of The Food Basket)

The Food Basket, Hawai‘i Island’s food bank, has never experienced the type of food shortage it is seeing now.

“Never of this magnitude — the drop in volume and shipments is unprecedented and frankly scary,” Kristin Frost Albrecht, the organization’s executive director, told Big Island Now on Thursday, June 30, via email.

The Food Basket staff member Alanna Bumatay helps a walk-up customer with a bag of food Thursday, June 30, at one of the organization’s locations on the Big Island.

Supply chain issues throughout the United States, because of staffing shortages and ongoing crop shortages, have caused the shelves of the Big Island’s food bank to go bare.

“We are experiencing a severe shortage of food due to supply chain issues with (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) that typically sends us — and other food banks — a high volume of commodity food,” Albrecht said.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program is provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. According to its website, the program helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing emergency food assistance at no cost.

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The Food Basket received more than 1.4 million pounds of food through the emergency food program in 2020, getting the most, 518,824 pounds, in the fourth quarter of that year, according to inventory information provided by Albrecht. Since then, the amount of food provided to the food bank through the program has steadily decreased.

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The inventory data show that The Food Basket was projected to receive nearly 30,500 pounds of food from the federal emergency program in June but only received about 7,000 pounds.

“We started experiencing cancellation and/or delays of shipments during 2020, but the volume of what we were receiving continued to be high, and while we were already supplementing with purchased food, we weren’t buying all the food,” Albrecht said. “We’ve had a huge reduction in volume of TEFAP orders — and what has been ordered is most often being delayed and/or canceled — such as is the situation for June with 30,000 pounds ordered and only 7,000 pounds delivered.”

She said additional challenges arise because food has to be shipped from the mainland to O‘ahu first, before coming to the Big Island.

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The shortage is affecting all of the food bank’s facilities around the island. The Food Basket aggregates and distributes food to those in need to and from facilities in Hilo and Kona, as well to more than 100 partner agencies islandwide.

The organization is filling in the gaps in food as best as it can with donated food and funds, Albrecht said, adding the donated funds allows it to purchase food. However, The Food Basket is extremely worried about the next few months, when there will be little to no volume of food coming in. According to the inventory data, the food bank is expecting a little more than 61,000 pounds of food from The Emergency Food Assistance Program through the rest of the year.

And if the actual amount of food it received in June vs. the projected amount is any indication, The Food Basket could receive much less during the next few months if supply issues persist.

“The supply issues are causing us concern because we are purchasing food to keep up with the huge surge in need for residents due to high costs of groceries, gas (and the long distances people have to drive), utility rates, rents … ,” Albrecht said, adding there is additional concern about being ready to respond during hurricane season.

The food bank is accepting food and monetary donations at its Hilo and Kona locations. Albrecht said The Food Basket could use staple items, such as non-perishable proteins, vegetables, fruit, rice, pasta, canned meals, saimin, eggs, bread, peanut butter and juice, right away.

“Anything will help,” she said.

Big Island residents can also help the island’s food bank by participating in the second annual Fill A Cruiser Food Drive through 2 p.m. today, July 1, in the Kona Costco parking lot.

The drive is a collaborative effort between the Hawai’i Police Department’s Kona Community Policing Section, Costco Kona, The Food Basket and KAPA radio personality Tommy Ching and will help provide food to island residents in need.

Albrecht said The Food Basket is incredibly grateful for the ongoing generosity of the Big Island community.

“We can’t do this work without their continued support — and their love and care of their community, neighbors, families and friends in need,” she said. “Mahalo nui loa from all of us at The Food Basket.”

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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