A Christmas Wish: May There Be Food For The Hungry

Gerald Shintaku of Kraft and Bob Stout of Times/Big Save hope you’ll help to Check-Out Hunger. Purchasing one of the green tickets shown here can feed a child breakfast for a week, a senior lunch for a month or a family dinner for a week

For as little as $2.81, $12.43 or $16.84, the Check-Out Hunger program at Times, Bug Save and Sfaeway makes it wasy to help feed those who might otherwise go hungry during the holidays

It is better to give than receive. “Donating makes you feel good,” says Hawai’i Foodbank Kaua’i branch employee Michelle Panoke.

For the holiday season, the local food bank is teaming up with Times, Big Save and Safeway grocery stores as well as Kraft Foods for the annual Check-Out Hunger program to help feed the ever-increasing number of hungry individuals across the island.

Customers shopping at Times, Big Save and Safeway can donate to the cause through Jan. 15 by purchasing tickets, located at the registers, of a chosen denomination – $2.81 feeds a child breakfast for a week, $12.43 feeds a senior lunch for a month or $16.84 feeds a family dinner for a week.

And all donations stay on island.

“It’s the holiday season; not only do we give to one another, it’s a nice time to think about what we can do for the needy,” says Gerald Shintaku of Kraft Foods.

Wes Perreira of Hawaii Foodbank with employees Michelle Panoke and James Hughes

Kraft Foods sponsors Check-Out Hunger (as well as the just-completed Shop and Score, and the Kraft Check-Out Hunger college bowl game Dec. 29 in San Francisco) and has contributed $45,000 to the statewide campaign over the last nine years. It also is among businesses that fostered more than $200,000 in donations from customers around the state last year through the program.

“Which is pretty impressive,” says Wes Perreira of Hawai’i Foodbank Kaua’i.

With an average of 7,000 individuals being fed through 29 agencies (churches, nonprofits, etc.) around the island by the food bank (according to July 2012 statistics), any amount goes a long way.

“Because of the economy and how it’s been the last few years, retail distributers have cut back on their operating costs and how much they’re willing to waste, and so that affects how much they’re able to give us,” says Perreira. “With that number going down, we’ve had to go out to purchase more food.”

Donations made via Check-Out Hunger allow Hawai’i Foodbank to purchase more edibles for families. The food bank can purchase food at a lower cost for its clients, including fresh fruit and produce, because of its affiliation with Feeding America, the national food bank association of which it’s a member.

Look for this display at the cash registers at participating stores — Times, Big Save and Safeway — and choose one of three tickets for a cash donation to Hawaii Foodbank

But even with the wide variety of nutritious food purchased, it is still difficult to keep the warehouse stocked, “because as fast as food comes in, it leaves,” says Perreira. “It’s a constant challenge to go out there and solicit food.”

Distribution is up 50 percent since 2011.

Unemployment rates coupled with rising gas and food prices are among the reasons more folks continue to go hungry.

“You’ve got to be a good corporate citizen,” says Bob Stout, president of Times and Big Save supermarkets.

Having recently read that the food bank is now feeding more than 185,000 people in the state each week compared to around 118,000 people in 2001, Stout has even more reason to want to give back. Not only does the grocery chain participate in the campaign every year – last year it was responsible for raising $80,000 through Check-Out Hunger – it contributes food regularly to Hawai’i Foodbank. Approximately 1 million pounds of produce alone was donated last year.

“You’ve got to care about the community; you’ve got to show aloha,” says Stout. “But it’s also the right thing to do.”

Wes Perreira of Hawa‘i Foodbank Kaua‘i branch makes sure food items like stuffing and turkey gravy are available for those in need during the holidays

Whatever monetary ticket amount people can contribute is appreciated.

“Whatever you can do, you need to do it,” says Stout.

Though Stout, who oversees 1,600 employees throughout his company’s businesses located on Kaua’i (five Big Saves and one Times), Maui and Oahu, encourages everyone to give, he admits it’s not easy asking for money from people who themselves might be struggling during these financially difficult times.

“That’s hard, that’s difficult to do,” he says.

Nonetheless, he finds customers to be exceptionally compassionate.

“Our customers are incredibly generous,” he says. “They get involved every year in the different programs, especially this one, and they always step up to the plate and help. It just shows that they want to give back to the community as well. That’s very rewarding, very satisfying and gratifying.”

Not only does CheckOut Hunger bring members of the community together, it also provides a way for businesses to work with one another for a good cause.

“It’s a nice fit, one of the neat things we can do,” says Shintaku.

The Kraft Foods representative enjoys being part of the solution.

Customer Manu Rowe and Big Save employee Trina Kanahele show how easy it is to make a difference in other people’s lives

“Hunger is a huge problem not only globally, but also here in Hawai’i,” he says. “Hunger appears in many forms – it could be your neighbor, you don’t know who it is, so it affects a lot of people. We’ve still got a long way to go before we tackle all the issues, but we’re chipping away at it.”

Tackling hunger is indeed a long, uphill battle and the need never seems to go away.

Perreira, who is wholeheartedly thankful for the support of businesses such as Times, Big Save, Safeway and Kraft Foods, agrees.

“It breaks our hearts,” he says in response to seeing so many go hungry, especially children. “We absolutely wish we could do more.”

There is a stereotype that people who utilize the food bank services are lazy.

“That’s not entirely the case,” says Perreira. “A lot of folks have been displaced – because of losing jobs, and the economy, companies downsizing and eliminating positions, they’ve found themselves in dire straits.”

Stout has visited food bank distribution points around the state.

“If you want something to tug at your heart, go watch that,” he says. “Then you start thinking, ‘Wow, I’m pretty blessed, I’m pretty lucky.'”

Many of the clients at distribution sites around Kaua’i are folks Lihu’e-native Perreira has known for many years.

“There is no shame in getting help,” says the former police officer who has been working at the Puhi food bank since its inception about three years ago.

“Everyone needs to do their part,” adds Perreira, who with wife Stacy, a police officer, has four children. “Everyone needs to contribute to help people who are less fortunate than them. It’s more of a moral issue than a civic duty.”

To make a donation for Check-Out Hunger, look for the bright-green tickets at the registers in Times, Big Save and Safeway grocery stores.