The Hawaii Foodbank Needs Us

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - November 12, 2008
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Nohea, Keoki and Chandi

Sheri Rolf is the most optimistic person I know. I have watched her over the years handle the difficult task of chairing the huge and successful annual food drive for the Hawaii Foodbank, and she has always remained amazingly energetic and relentlessly upbeat. But today she allowed a hint of worry to crack through her positive demeanor. It’s getting dicey, she says, and people are having a harder time giving.

She’s not the only one worried. Nonprofits and charities here and across the country are lowering their expectations in the face of the worst economic crisis of our time. And as always, the folks with the most to lose are those who have the least.

They are people like Chandi and her longtime partner Keoki. They sat with me recently in a hot parking lot in Kalihi waiting for a truck to unload its treasures. They were hoping for bread and fruits and vegetables, maybe some canned meats. And Chandi was hoping she could walk away with some disposal diapers and wipes.

Chandi and Keoki were there for the food, but they also wanted to tell their story. Anything, they said, to help the Hawaii Foodbank.

Here’s the twist: Chandi, who today depends on the Hawaii Foodbank to help keep her family afloat, used to work for the Foodbank on Kauai. She was in a position to help people there. She never thought she would be on the receiving end.

But when they got to Oahu, things changed. First, Chandi got pregnant and had another baby. So now, a mother of four and without the child-care support of her family back on Kauai, Chandi made the tough decision to stay at home to care for her children. Then came the sucker punch. Keoki lost his job.

Things got worse, much worse, from there. They couldn’t pay their rent and ended up homeless and adrift. What followed was a series of homeless and transitional shelters until they moved in with Keoki’s two brothers and their families. That means 13 people (seven of them kids) are crammed into a two-bedroom apartment. Not an ideal situation but, hey, it’s a roof over their heads.

If you look around Hawaii today you see so many of our neighbors in the same situation - families barely hanging on, sharing houses and packing into tiny apartments. And more and more of them are finding it hard to maintain even a meager way of life.

Asking for food, Chandi admitted, “was at first really hard. But then I realized, OK, we really need the help.”

“It is hard,” Keoki agreed, but they’re doing it for their kids. “They got to eat before we do.”

And they do not take the Foodbank for granted. Keoki, who recently got a new job and is working 12- to 13-hour days, arrives at the distribution site early to help set up the tables and unload the food. Afterward, he stays to clean up. He feels it’s the least he can do for what they receive.

“I do what I can. And as hard as we struggle, I have friends who struggle twice as hard.”

Sheri Rolf is really worried about Chandi and Keoki, their kids and the thousands like them in Hawaii. Look in the Foodbank warehouse she says. Most of the shelves are empty. It goes out as fast as they can take it in.

There are several ways you can help. You can log on to and donate online. You can send your check in the envelope provided by the Hawaii Foodbank in a letter sent to many of you last week.

And you can donate canned goods. Right now 300 employees of AIG Hawaii are holding their own food drive across the state. On Oahu you can drop off nonperishable items at the AIG offices at Restaurant Row, the Pearl City office in Times Square and the Kunia Wal-Mart. On the Neighbor Islands, drop-off is at AIG offices in Kahului, Hilo and Lihue. They’re hoping to collect 10,000 pounds of food by Nov. 19 - just in time for the holidays.

These are difficult times. But we’ll get through them if we all pitch in what we can. It really doesn’t have to be much, and it can make a huge difference in so many lives.

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