Fighting Hunger on Kauai

Hundreds of Kauai residents, many of them children, would go hungry without the help of Hawaii Foodbank in Puhi. Donations of food and money are needed to continue providing more than 2,000 pounds of food a day

Hawaii Foodbank, in partnership with food distribution agencies across the island including St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church and St. Catherine Parish, is making sure everyone’s belly is full this holiday season.

“We believe everyone is one ohana and no one in the ohana should ever go hungry,” says Wes Perreira of Hawaii Foodbank, Kauai Branch.

The nonprofit provides food for 28 agencies across the island. Approximately 12,500 adults and 6,500 children were fed through these agencies during the previous fiscal year.

Sadly, these figures continue to rise.

St. Catherine Parish in Kapaa alone serves about 350 people, 35 percent of whom are children. The church recently served a record 466 people.

“It keeps growing. It’s sad, especially when you see the children,” says Jerold Saturnino, a volunteer at St. Catherine Parish. “They go in sad, but when they come out with smiling faces, you know you’re doing something good.”

Saturnino believes it is a lack of jobs that has accelerated the need.

In Lihue, St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church also provides food for 300-400 people on a weekly basis, approximately one-third of whom are children. And like St. Catherine, the church’s Loaves and Fishes food pantry also receives most of its food from Hawaii Foodbank. The majority of people who utilize the service are regulars, but newcomers arrive each week.

“They are societal under-dogs by most people’s standards, yet they’re the cream of the crop,” says Pat Hillegonds, volunteer for St. Michael and All Angels, who enjoys being able to help those in need.

Most of the food acquired by the food bank is donated via retailers such as Big Save, Times, Safeway, Kmart and Walmart. Food drives also are a significant part of food gathering. In addition, Hawaii Foodbank on Oahu plays a large role in augmenting the supply.

Hawaii Foodbank’s Puhi warehouse holds approximately 80,000 pounds of food regularly, with about 20,000 pounds dispersed each week. Keeping the 5,000-square-foot warehouse full is challenging, however, “because as fast as it comes in, it goes out,” notes Perreira.

Plus, the food bank offers a wide variety, from soup and rice to yogurt and cheese. Fresh produce also is made available to the hungry, thanks to the organization’s affiliation with Feeding America, which allows the nonprofit to purchase food from the Mainland for pennies on the dollar.

“People love it,” says Hillegonds about the regular supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Hillegonds and Saturnino appreciate all that Hawaii Foodbank has done for their community.

“Their mission is most consistent with our mission, and their values are most consistent with our values,” says Hillegonds.

About 2,000 pounds of food arrives at the warehouse in Puhi every day. A good portion is supplied by local vendors, food that would have otherwise been wasted.

The element of her Hawaii Foodbank job Michelle Panoke finds most rewarding is the ability to deal regularly with loving, giving and caring people within the community.

“I love working with that,” she says.

The real workhorses in the feeding program, however, are volunteers such as Hillegonds and Saturnino, according to Perreira.

“Without them, there would be no food bank,” says the Kauai High School graduate.

While there are many mouths for these thoughtful volunteers to feed, there also are the hungry who have a hard time accepting their circumstances. Pride keeps them from enjoying the benefits various agencies have to offer. Saturnino recalls an instance when someone was reluctant to step inside the church to receive donations.

“They sat for one hour in the car until they decided they really needed food and came in,” he says. “Anybody can fall into the same situation, but sometimes your pride is too strong.”

“People tend to be really proud of themselves and it’s difficult to ask for help,” agrees Hillegonds. “But it’s OK. We’re here and that’s what we’re here for.”

“No shame,” adds Perreira.

This year’s goal is to collect a total of 950,000 pounds of food and, so far, the charity is on course to reach that figure.

“We’re all in this together,” says Hillegonds. “We’re only as strong as our weakest link, and so if we don’t strengthen our weakest link, we’ll all suffer.”

“It can happen to anybody,” warns Saturnino. “So give until it hurts because you might be one of the recipients one day.”

In most demand are canned protein (meat, tuna and chicken), canned meals (stew, spaghetti and chili), canned vegetables, canned fruits and rice. Visit for more information about donating or holding a fundraiser, or call 482-2224.

Monetary donations to Hawaii Foodbank can be made at Times, Big Save and Safeway grocery stores. Just look for the bright-green tickets at the registers.

“Life’s greatest reward is helping others,” says Perreira. “You can only find happiness in doing so.”