Feeding More Hungry Folks

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - September 14, 2011
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If you want to know the state of the economy for the most vulnerable of our population, try talking to Cindy Bauer. As head of the charitable organization Surfing the Nations, she finds and feeds thousands of people who would otherwise go without.

I recently met up with her at one of her food distribution sites in Palama, nestled under the sheltering rumble of the H-1 Freeway.

The scene was an eye-opener: When I arrived there were hundreds of people waiting for food. The volunteers that day were from Pastor Eddie’s church. The food, as always, was from the Hawaii Foodbank.

According to Cindy, the people had been lining up since 6 a.m., even though the distribution would not start until 11.

“We will probably feed about 500 families, which comes to right around 2,000 people we’re actually feeding today.”

They came from all over the Kalihi-Palama area. They were Samoan, Hawaiian, Chinese, Southeast Asian and more. They were mostly elderly, more women than men, and they were snaking around a space separated by orange wire mesh.

Bauer has been at this for more than a decade. Back when she started it was a small and modest operation.

“In 1998 it was with seven families. I actually went out and delivered boxes, delivered food to seven families in the lower Kalihi area.”

And today, the need is almost overwhelming and growing.

“We feed four days a week. On Tuesdays we’re in Wahiawa, Wednesdays we’re in Waianae, Thursdays Kalihi and Friday Haleiwa.”

Bauer says most of the people they help are not homeless. “They are not. Maybe, 1, 2 percent of them at the most. So out of 10 people you see here, maybe one is homeless. It might even be one in 20. These are mainly your working poor here. And that’s why you see so many tutus, because they will be the one sent out by the family to go get the food.”

As we walked the line and watched the volunteers hand out boxes and cans and loaves of bread, Cindy explained some of the cultural challenges they face in feeding Hawaii’s ethnically diverse population.

“They love the produce. They fight over the produce. But some produce we have to talk them into taking. Honeydew melons, raspberries. When we have raspberries, they haven’t tasted them they didn’t know what they were. I had to beg people to take them, and it was such a shocker to me because I think of raspberries as kind of a jewel to have. Such a treat.

“Cabbage they’ll take way before lettuce. Cabbage goes out like that. Lettuce is difficult to give away. They love oranges. Oranges are like a real favorite fruit.”

I saw a volunteer try to give away a chocolate cake. People were turning her down. Priorities, Cindy says. It’s all a matter of what they need most. Who wants to hassle with chocolate cake when they’ve got to bring real food home for the kids?

“The thing is,” explains Cindy, “a lot of these people have to walk home or take the bus home. So what they take is always affected by how they’re going to get it home. Some people come with wagons. They all have those little folding carts. We will not allow people to pick up food with shopping carts.”

I keep wanting to do a story about how the need for food is diminishing. The economy has got to get better at some point, right?

Tell that to the people in that long line under the freeway in Palama.

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