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Hawaii island food bank serving 80,000 people monthly during pandemic

HILO>> A Hawaii Island food bank has significantly increased its services since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, serving up to 80,000 people monthly.

The Food Basket provided assistance to about 14,000 people a month at this time last year, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Wednesday.

Executive Director Kristin Frost Albrecht said the group helps residents through a network of partner agencies and programs.

The Food Basket serves between 2,000 and 3,700 people at each of its Big Island sites and 80% to 85% of those are unemployed, Albrecht said.

People must register and qualify for the program, which typically provides them with 40-pound boxes of food each month, Albrecht said.

The Food Basket is experienced with crisis, Albrecht said.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve had hurricanes and lava, but there’s been nothing like this,” she said.

Ohana Food Drop, the organization’s main pandemic program, began in March as a safe method to deliver food to people who need it.

The food bank’s Kupuna Pantry, a program for older adults operated in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, became a drive-through program in March and serves about 1,100 people, Albrecht said.

High demand and difficulties obtaining food from the agriculture department’s Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program has resulted in the organization buying more food than ever.

The organization routinely spends between $350,000 and $450,000 monthly on food purchases.

The Food Basket received $653,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds and $643,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding. Another $223,000 in grant funding is awaiting approval.

Albrecht said the organization has been helped by numerous donations including food contributions from farmers. She credited community support for the successful expansion of services.

“It’s a significant change, and sometimes it sort of takes our breath away, but we have adapted and that’s the key thing,” Albrecht said. “We have adapted, and the community has adapted right along with us.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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