A Kraft-y Way To Help Hawaii Foodbank

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 16, 2009
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Gerald Shintaku and Polly Kauahi

I knew we were rushing headlong into the holidays when I sat down with Polly Kauahi and Gerald Shintaku to talk about their annual Check Out Hunger program. It signifies the start of the holiday season for me, and puts me on alert that it’s time to start planning.

Kauahi is the director of development for the Hawaii Foodbank, Shintaku is business manager for Kraft Foods in Hawaii, and together they’ve made the annual Check out Hunger the Foodbank’s largest fundraiser.

Kraft joined the program in 2003, and began a series of changes that resulted in a dramatic increase in donations.

“Before Kraft got involved, we’d been running the Check Out Hunger campaign for about nine years,” says Kauahi, “and it sadly wasn’t really a visible program. Kraft came on board, and now it’s a beautiful campaign - and nothing we were ever able to accomplish on our own.”


It is indeed a beautiful campaign. In 2003, donations totaled $70,000. Last year, despite the tough economy, donations topped $180,000.

“We like to be involved in community events,” explains Shintaku, “and in Hawaii, the generosity of the people is incredible.”

Kauahi and Shintaku joke that they see more of each other at this time of year than they do of their families, as they engage in a tireless round of morning news shows and interviews. But for all their lively banter, they bring serious attention to some truly disturbing facts. “This year there is a frightening level of dependence on the Foodbank,” says Kauahi. “Every month 400 new callers dial the Aloha United Way 211 number asking about food, and almost all of them are first-time callers.”

With furlough days, and unemployment figures rising, those calls continue to come. “One furlough day for a struggling family can mean scrambling to try and find two meals or more,” says Kauahi, “and we’re talking here about many, many, hard-working families who simply struggle to feed their children.”

For children, the implications of the current economy are worse than ever. There are more than 33,000 hungry children in Hawaii, and the Foodbank is part of a national BackPack program, where hungry keiki are sent home on weekends with nonperishable foods to help keep them nourished until the school cafeteria opens on Monday. With furlough days, there’s less food to go around, and more days to fill.

“We still send the kids home with backpacks,” says Kauahi, “but now they go home on Thursday and the same amount of food has to last until Monday.”

Kraft is coming to the rescue with this problem, too, and this year will send home holiday backpacks with items that can help feed an entire family. “Items like macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter can help feed siblings and parents,” says Kauahi. “They’re foods that can help everyone.”

Getting involved in the Check Out Hunger campaign is simple. As you check out your groceries at participating supermarkets between now and Jan. 11, pick up one of three green coupons and have it scanned as part of your grocery bill.

For less than the price of a tabloid magazine you can feed a child breakfast for a week. A $12.43 donation feeds a senior lunch for a month.

“Last year the people of Hawaii really came through,” says Shintaku, “and we had a record number of donations, which is incredible when you consider the economy.”

Participating stores are Safeway, Times, Don Quijote, Tamura’s and Kokua Market, as well as KTA stores on the Big Island.

“These are the people who deserve the credit and the thanks,” says Shintaku. “Them, and the people of Hawaii who step up every year. If it wasn’t for their giving hearts, we’d never be able to help feed the hungry.”

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