New Foodbank: Local, Dependable

Foodbank administrator Michelle Panoke and warehouse supervisor Wes Perreira. Photo courtesy Hawaii Foodbank

I love Kaua’i. I love the people and love the island. So I was happy to visit for something else I love: the Hawaii Foodbank. If you read my colleague Bob Jones’ columns, you know there are now two food banks on Kaua’i Kaua’i Independent Food Bank and the new Kaua’i Branch of Hawaii Foodbank.

I attended the opening and blessing of Hawaii Foodbank I’m a member of the board which was well-attended and a beautiful opportunity to say aloha to a community that prides itself on its sense of family. No matter what, Kaua’i people take care of their own. That’s a really good thing.

Michelle Panoke is the agency administrator and supervisor. She and warehouse supervisor Wes Perreira do everything “all the driving, all the distributing, all the paperwork …”

As a small but efficient two-person operation, they take their responsibilities to their fellow Garden Islanders seriously. They provide food to 14 member service agencies feeding seniors, keiki, low-income families, the disabled and the unemployed. It’s a job they handle with pride and professionalism. And they hope that as people get to know them better, more service agencies will sign up. Panoke understands that personal relationships are essential to doing their job in the close-knit community of Kaua’i.

“It’s very important because you have to establish trust, you have to be able to have that sense of camaraderie, love and respect for the people the agencies and the people receiving the food from the pantries. They really deserve a lot of respect.”

Panoke knows every inch of the territory. It is, after all, her home turf. She spent the day driving us all over the island so we could meet the people who make up the island’s safety net.

Momi Machado heads Nana’s House, a family support center that serves West Kaua’i. She agrees that trust and respect are key to the Hawaii Foodbank’s acceptance on Kaua’i. She has no doubt that trust will be earned and given. “You have to be able to work with the people you live with and serve,” she says.

We also met the folks who run Kaua’i United Way, which has embraced Hawaii Foodbank as a valuable community resource with a proven track record when it comes to answering the needs of hungry and food-insecure local families.

Dory Farias, who runs Hale Ho’omalu on the east side of Kaua’i, says 90 percent of the food they give to families comes from Hawaii Foodbank. And they do serve a lot of people.

“On a monthly basis, at least about 178 families or so,” she says. “It’s increased. I’ve been here eight years now, and with the way the economy has been it’s increased.”

The people attending the blessing at the spanking new Hawaii Foodbank warehouse in Puhi weren’t interested in the number of food banks taking up residence on Kaua’i. They were not taking sides. They were simply focused on welcoming an organization that has proven it has heart, professionalism, dependability and the resources to get food to the people who need it most.

Mahalo, Kaua’i, for greeting us with open arms.