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Local Food for Local Needs

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

As the effects of COVID-19 continue and many families face financial hardship, the Molokai community is coming together to make sure everyone stays fed. Last week, an effort spear-headed by nonprofit Sust’aina ble Molokai, through the Maui Food Bank’s Molokai food pantry organizations and many volunteers, brought 400 pounds of Molokai-grown kalo, 340 pounds of locally caught fish, 400 pounds of Molokai-raised shrimp, and 50 pounds of Molokai-grown egg-plant, beans and papayas to those in need.

“On the one hand, it’s sad to see people out of work and more people in need, but it’s exciting to see the community coming together, to see all the resources we have on island being put to use,” said Harmonee Williams, Sust’aina ble Molokai executive director.

The locally grown and harvested food supplemented shipments sent to Molokai by the Maui Food Bank, which has increased its normal once-monthly deliveries to the island to twice a month during the COVID crisis.

Tita Kaiwi, Agency Director of Maui Food Bank, said the organization’s most recent shipment to Molokai was 33,000 pounds of food, mostly purchased from Oahu and Maui.

“We’re not getting as much supplies from normal vendors because everyone is so backed up,” said Kaiwi. “We are encouraging others to donate monetarily because our dollar can go further because we purchase in bulk and we don’t want to deplete our local supplies. But mainland sup-pliers are having the same issues. That is the benefit to have more local resources because when it’s scare, there is this extra that people can still access.”

She said they often purchase produce locally from growers like Kumu Farms.

Hawaiian Electric recently donated $20,000 to the Maui Food Bank for Molokai, which Kaiwi said covered most of the last shipment to the island.

“ʻAʻohe hana nui ke alu ʻia! No task is too large when we come together,” Kilia Purdy-Avelino of Alu Like Inc., a partner agency on Molokai, said in a Hawaiian Electric press release. “Mahalo to all for working together in unity to aloha Molokai with such generous donations from the Maui Food Bank, Hawaiian Electric and other companies, nonprofit organizations, and even individuals. The overwhelming gratitude from the receiving families speaks volumes of what the extra food bank deliveries mean to our community.”

The dry goods, as well as frozen and fresh produce sent from the Maui Food Bank is then distributed to individuals, families, keiki, kupuna on fixed incomes, the homeless and anyone who is at risk of going hungry through about 20 Molokai partner agencies. Those include churches, nonprofits and other organizations. A list of Molokai distribution sites can be found printed in last week’s Molokai Dispatch or online at mauifoodbank.org/food-distribution-sites/.

“There are a lot of new families in need — we’re trying to get the word out where people can find food and… what pantries are available in their area,” said Kaiwi.

Sust’aina ble Molokai worked directly with Gina Kuahuia of the Salvation Army, who coordinates all the food pantry distribution agencies on Molokai, to get the locally harvested food dispersed.

“We’ve had a bunch of funders reach out to us during COVID, wanting to help,” said Williams. So far, Sust’aina ble Molokai has accepted funding from four different governmental and private foundations for a total of $32,000 that is going directly to pay Molokai farmers and fishermen for the relief food.

In April, Sust’aina ble Molokai purchased 2,000 cucumbers from Molokai farmers Jonathan Jefts, 800 pounds of steamed kalo chunks from Josh Pastrana and 400 pounds of shrimp from Steve Chaikin. Resident Matt Yamashita coordinated local fishermen to provide more than 300 pounds of akule and ta’ape. Their goal is to cover the costs of those harvesting for the donation but not to get rich and raid the resources, according to Williams.

“We still trying to figure this out so it works for everybody and doesn’t negatively impact our re-sources…. I spoke with some of our established commercial and longtime fishermen and they felt that these two species make sense for this and that it would be sustainable,” explained Yamashita on social media. “This isn’t about making big profits for fishermen, it’s about feeding families in need and helping fishermen cover costs and provide a little extra income for their families during this time.”

Lots of helping hands made packing the food donations possible, said Williams. The Molokai Community Health Center donated the use of their certified kitchen and Paddlers restaurant donated their refrigeration space to hold the produce overnight before it was distributed.

Additionally, the Maui Food Bank secured more than 30 coolers to help with transportation and distribution of the Sust’ainable Molokai food donations, while the Coast Guard offered to fly the cooler shipment to Molokai two weeks ago. Each of the almost 20 Molokai food pantry locations now has coolers to keep the food chilled before and during pick up events, said Williams.

She said Sust’ainable Molokai’s next donation to Molokai food banks on May 14 will include 800 pounds of local grassfed beef burger purchased through the Molokai Livestock Cooperative.

In addition to supporting the food banks, Sust’ainable Molokai held an ulu tree giveaway last week, distributing about 150 ulu trees to community members.

“It’s been really exciting to hear people fishing, hunting and farming and we’re so happy to help support that,” said Williams. “We want to continue to support more people growing and producing more of their own food.”

Williams said so far, her organization has contributed to the Food Bank twice in April and will continue as long as there is a need, and the funds are available.

“Rebuilding the local food system has always our goal, and now people are super on board with that…. I feel like it’s just connecting the dots,” said Williams. “We’ve got the food and resources, we’ve got the know-how, and now we’re just connecting the dots of those resources to the people who need them.”

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