By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaii’s Food Basket is getting bigger, and that’s a great thing for the families who struggle to put food on their tables, say the nonprofit’s organizers.
The Food Basket Inc. recently relocated from 140 Holomua St. in Hilo to 40 Holomua. The move landed the charitable food bank in a building about twice the size of its old one.
That’s important, said Executive Director En Young, because nearly a third of Hawaii Island residents rely on The Food Basket for help at least once a year, and that means plenty of food must be coming in and out of the building’s doors all day long. The old location was simply being stretched to its limits, he said.
“It’s a big operation. This allows us more room for storage, more room to move, and to be more efficient,” he said.
Meanwhile, The Food Basket must follow “strict vermin control protocols, and the old building was tough to seal,” he said. “Some pests were getting in. … Mice, roaches and some birds.”
Additionally, the building’s lease was scheduled for renewal around this time, and the organization feared it might face a hefty bump in the $2,000-a-month rent it paid to the landlord. So, The Food Basket’s board kicked off a campaign to purchase a new building from which to operate.
“We were very fortunate for the community support that this cause received,” Young said. “We received donations, not just of money but of time and services.”
The organization managed to purchase the property and the 15,000-square-foot building, which were valued at around $420,000 in total, using a combination of private donations from individuals and companies, as well as grants, Young said.
By owning its own building, The Food Basket has the ability to look at making further improvements down the line, such as adding photovoltaic panels to help with the monstrous power bills that can be accumulated by a facility that operates so many refrigerators.
“We don’t even have our big, walk-in (15-foot by 40-foot refrigerator) operating yet, and we’re still paying about $3,000 a month for electricity,” Young said. “Photovoltaic is definitely something we’d like to look at. It could make a huge impact.”
The building itself was largely just an empty shell, Young said, and it took plenty of donated labor, equipment and supplies to outfit the facility over the past six months with its wide array of storage shelving, refrigeration areas, sorting area, unloading dock and offices.
“I see this as a rebirth and a new beginning for The Food Basket,” said the nonprofit’s board chairman, Roland Higashi. “We have a new building that is much cleaner, that gives us more exposure. It puts us in a good place,” he said.
Young added that the new facility also gives the nonprofit a stronger foundation on which to rely once the current fiscal year comes to an end.
“We’re currently benefiting from a very generous grant from the county for operations,” he said. “But that’s a one-time thing. We’re working to diversify our program structure.”
Last year, the County Council declared an islandwide public health emergency as a result of food shortages at The Food Basket, and voted to subsidize the nonprofit to the tune of $275,000 — the council’s first-ever emergency appropriation.
As a result, Young said, the food bank’s coffers are fuller than they are usually, with almost 640,000 pounds of food on the shelves as of Tuesday. But, he said, now begins the lean season for food banks — not just here, but all over the country.
“People during Christmas, the holidays, they tend to donate a lot more, but once it gets into April, that’s when donations start to drop off,” he said.
Young, who recently moved to the Big Isle from Oahu, has been on the job for six weeks, after taking over for former director Nani Lee. A Hilo High School graduate, he previously worked for the state Department of Labor.
In recognition of the help The Food Basket received in attaining and preparing its new facility, organizers are planning a private grand opening celebration today to thank its supporters, and to bless the new building.
For more information on The Food Basket, visit www.foodbaskethi.org or call 933-6030.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.
Construction and supply donors to The Food Basket
• Ace Hardware — Construction donation
• Argus Building Suppl — Construction donation
• Big Island Granite Company — Construction donation
• T. Hara & Co Ltd — Storage donation
• ADE Repairs — air conditioning/refrigeration
• Mihara Transfer Inc. — transportation
• Kona Transportation — transportatin
• Ivan Mochida Contracting — contracting
• Hirayama Bros. Electrical — electrical
• Keith Shigehara Plumbing — plumbing
• Carpenters Union Local 745 — constuction
• Jas W. Glover — Construction donation
• Hilton Crane Service — Construction donation
• Yamada & Sons Inc — Construction donation
• HPM Building Supply — supplies
• Central Supply Inc — Construction donation
• Hilo Mechanical Inc — mechanics
• Engineering Partners — engineering and design
• Honsador Lumber LLC — lumber
• Ace Contractor Inc — Construction donation
• Hilo Termite & Pest Control — pest control
• Ferguson Plumbing — plumbing