Monday, August 15, 2011

Musings: Food Fight

The sky has been incredible lately. Yesterday afternoon it was a snakeskin pattern of white against deep blue, while this morning I awoke to a mustard-rose palette adorned with a silver moon whose roundness gave no hint that it was on the wane.

As the sun rose, a pearlescent convergence above Makaleha and Waialeale became a giant puffball of pink that slowly bled down onto the green faces of the mountains, causing them to blush.

An article that is no doubt embarrassing to the Kauai Independent Food Bank (KIFB) appeared last week in the Honolulu edition of MidWeek and is supposed to be published, with even more juicy details, in the issue that will start arriving in Kauai mailboxes today.

Penned by Bob Jones, the piece outlines the acrimonious split between the KIFB and the Hawaii Food Bank and gets into how KIFB had to repay a large federal grant, prompting the splashy headline: “Kauai Food Bank Misuses $779,000.” From what I hear, the state Attorney General’s office is now looking into the matter.

The article’s publication coincided with last Thursday’s blessing of the Hawaii Food Bank’s Kauai branch, which I attended, both because I work for an agency that has a food pantry and because I agreed to serve on the HFB’s Kauai community advisory board.

Though the KIFB gets more coverage in The Garden Island than any other nonprofit — perhaps because publisher Randy Kozerski serves on the KIFB board — virtually nothing has been reported locally about HFB's growing presence on Kauai or the reasons behind the split, save for a convoluted and misinformed piece in April 2010.

As a result of this virtual news blackout on the issue, Kauai folks seem to be confused about the presence of two food banks on our island. There’s also been some negativity directed toward the HFB, like it’s trying to muscle in on KIFB’s turf, and even some mistruths spread, like the food and money collected here is sent to Oahu. It's not.

In fact, nearly all of the agencies that distribute food to those who need it — a whopping 18 percent of Kauai residents — have welcomed HFB for one simple reason: it has provided us with more food and better food, like meat and regular supplies of fresh fruits and veggies.

And since nearly all the pantries have a shortage of storage space, we’ve also benefited from having HFB deliver frozen and chill items on our distribution days. That alone has made a huge difference in the quality and quantity of food that we can give out.

Like most of the other pantries, I shop at both food banks because I have only one interest: getting food for the 300 or so people who come to our pantry each month. Without the HFB, there would have been numerous times in the past year when I wouldn’t have had enough food, and would have had to turn folks away empty-handed.

Though the focus has been on the dirt and politics of the split between the two food banks, let’s not lose sight of the real issue, and that’s feeding the growing numbers of people who need food. Contrary to what some might think, the overwhelming majority aren’t homeless derelicts or freeloaders, but working people who are struggling to survive and feed their families in this crappy economy.

I keep remembering what a man said when I was collecting money for the Hawaii Food Bank outside Safeway a few weeks ago. He was supposed to pay for the pre-packaged bag of groceries inside the store, but gave me the money to buy it instead, saying, “It doesn’t matter who pays, just so long as someone gets fed.”

Right now, both food banks are feeding people, so it doesn't really matter which one you support. But it costs a lot of money to keep the trucks, refrigerators and freezers running, and so eventually, one of the food banks is going to shut its doors, or perhaps re-shape its mission.

My guess is that the HFB is here to stay, in part because it is carrying a little less baggage and has access to a lot more resources. And when it comes to procuring food for the hungry, that’s a very good thing.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100%.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the HFB, and sad to say a lot of the information comes from KIFB (I heard it straight from the horses' mouth).
I myself get food at both agencies.
The important thing is that the people of Kauai get fed!
I'm sure that all the shady business will come out in the end!

Anonymous said...

I heard a lot of rumors about Hawaii Food Bank here on Kauai and wondered.... Thanks for the information.

Anonymous said...

What's the short version? Is there really three quarters of a million tax dollars missing? Where did it g? o has anyone been charged with a crime? Why not? If its being paid back, doesn't that mean it was misappropriated? Why does the AG need to charge it? Can't the Kauai pros do it?

Oh wait, cops and pros are focusing their energy on making sure no one smokes pot - or carries a badge.

Mmmmm, maybe someone has friends in a high place?

Anonymous said...

Is your statement correct?: "Nearly all of the agencies that distribute food to those who need it on Kauai have welcomed the HFB"
The HFB website LISTS 14 agencies they serve. The KIFB website lists 54 agencies they serve. If my math is right that means that only 25% of all the agencies on Kauai work with the HFB. Or stated the other way around, 75% of all the agencies on Kauai have chosen NOT to work with the HFB.
That doesn't sound like "nearly all the agencies" welcome an off island food bank.

Anonymous said...

Providing food to those who need it HAS to be the primary concern.

Check out the websites: The KIFB reports they provided 730,000 lbs of food in 2010; The HFB-Kauai Branch says they provided 150,000 lbs of food in the last year. So how can it be that "the HFB has provided us with more food?" this doesn't make sense.

Joan Conrow said...

Dear Anons.,
All of the USDA-certified food pantries on Kauai, which serve the bulk of the needy, have chosen to get food from HFB. The KIFB list agencies that do not meet USDA standards, and some agencies that do not distribute to the general public.

Furthermore, HIFB only just officially opened, so its poundage for 2010 is obviously going to be lower than KIFB's. Additionally, KIFB gave out all the USDA food on Kauai, which comprises the majority of the poundage it's reporting. That will not be the case in when agencies get to choose which Food Bank they want to get their USDA allotment from.

But as always, the proof is in the pudding. Come to my next distribution and I'll be glad to show you which Food Bank supplies the bulk of our purchased food. It's HFB, hands down. Then go to the other legit pantries and you'll find it's the same.

Anonymous said...

I think you're hot!!

Ray Songtree said...

Hi Joan,

please see

there is a meeting Lydgate Park, Monday, 4:30 potluck which will roll into meeting about solidarity action with nyc protest.

Please see/review KauaiTruth.Com

thanks Ray Songtree