‘Unprecedented and downright scary’: food basket with serious food shortage

The shelves in one of The Food Basket’s warehouses are empty due to a severe food shortage due to supply chain issues with the USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program. (Photos courtesy of The Food Basket)

the food basketHawaii’s food bank, has never experienced the kind of food shortage it is seeing now.

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

Food Basket employee Alanna Bumatay helps a walking customer with a bag of food at one of the organization’s locations on the Big Island on Thursday, June 30.

Supply chain problems in the United States, due to staff shortages and ongoing crop shortages, have left the shelves of the Big Island’s food bank empty.

“We are experiencing a severe food shortage due to supply chain issues with[The Emergency Food Assistance Program]that typically sends us — and other food banks — a large amount of staple foods,” Albrecht said.

The emergency food aid program is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. According to the website, the program helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing free food aid.

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The food basket received more than 1.4 million pounds of food through the emergency food program in 2020 and received the most, £518,824, 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 declined.

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

“We experienced cancellations and/or delays in shipments in 2020, but the volume of what we received remained high, and while we were already replenishing with purchased food, we didn’t buy all of the food,” said Albrecht. “We’ve had a massive reduction in the volume of TEFAP orders – and what has been ordered is usually delayed and/or canceled – like the situation for June with £30,000 ordered and only £7,000 delivered.”

She said additional challenges arise because food must first be shipped from the mainland to O’ahu before making it to the Big Island.

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The shortage affects all food bank facilities on the island. The Food Basket collects and distributes food to those in need to and from facilities in Hilo and Kona, as well as more than 100 partner agencies across the island.

The organization is filling the food gaps as best it can with donated food and funds, Albrecht said, and adding the donated money will help it buy food. However, The Food Basket is very concerned about the coming months, when little to no food is coming in. According to inventory data, the food bank expects just over 61,000 pounds of food from The Emergency Food Aid Program for the rest of the year.

And if the actual amount of food it received in June versus the expected amount is any indication, The Food Basket could receive a lot less in the coming months if supply problems persist.

“Supply issues are a concern as we buy food to keep up with the huge need for residents due to high costs of groceries, gas (and the long distances people have to drive), utilities, rent…” Albrecht said, adding that there are additional concerns about being ready to respond during hurricane season.

The food bank accepts food and money donations on its Hilo and Kona locations. Albrecht said The Food Basket can immediately use basic commodities such as non-perishable proteins, vegetables, fruits, rice, pasta, canned meals, saimin, eggs, bread, peanut butter and juice.

“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 until 2 p.m. today, July 1, in the Kona Costco parking lot.

The drive is a collaboration 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 islanders in need.

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

“We cannot do this work without their continued support – and their love and care for their communities, neighbors, families and friends in need,” she said. “Mahalo nui loa from all of us at The Food Basket.”

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