Times Supermarket has been intimately involved with Hawaii Foodbank since its inception nearly three decades ago, and the Foodbank is again the beneficiary of Friday’s 35th annual Times Charity Golf Tournament. ‘That’s what aloha is all about,’ says Times CEO Bob Stout (left). With the Foodbank down to less than two weeks of on-hand food, president Dick Grimm is grateful for the assist

With Hawaii Foodbank feeding 183,000 people in the past year, and with its on-hand supply of food down to less than two weeks, the 35th annual Times Charity Golf Tournament benefitting the food bank is more important than ever

Bob Stout, Dick Grimm

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Bob Stout (left) of Times and Dick Grimm of Hawaii Foodbank. Nathalie Walker photo

As reports came out last week that Hawaii Foodbank’s warehouse reserves had dipped under the fortnight mark, this is the perfect time for the Times 35th annual Charity Golf Tournament benefiting the largest feeder of people in our state.

The Teruya family dreamed up the event in the 1970s as a way to raise money and give back to the community, and soon found a partnership with Hawaii Foodbank that seemed a natural fit for the local supermarket.

The tournament will be played at Kapolei Golf Course Friday with donations from sponsors and raffles raising money for the charity. And while the monies raised are important and the event highlights Times’ efforts, it’s really the tip of the iceberg in their ongoing relationship.

“We are a grocer, so the food bank is near and dear to our hearts,” says Bob Stout, president of Times for the past decade. “What you see is on the front side with the golf tournament and Check Out Hunger, which raised more than $100,000 last year. But what you don’t see is on the back side, where we donated over a half million pounds in produce to them last year alone.”

The symbiosis between the two is natural – Times sells a product with a very finite shelf life and must order enough products to keep its shelves full and its customers’ needs met. But when the supply outstrips the demand, as it invariably does, what do you do with the excess product that is still edible, just not fresh enough to sell to customers?

“It is good corporate citizenship, but it’s also a smart thing to do,” says Stout of giving all their short-coded foods and produce to the food bank, “rather than just waste it and filling up the landfill, where it does nobody any good. And with the food bank, their give-back is 94 percent, so they are lean and mean, not a lot of administration. What they are getting in they give back, that is why we like them.”

The admiration between the two is mutual, and even though the Teruyas sold Times to John Quinn a decade ago, you will still find a Teruya on the Hawaii Foodbank board of directors.

“I think Times is one of the leading examples of all organizations here in Hawaii in their commitment to the community,” says Dick Grimm, president of Hawaii Foodbank. “It’s very, very deep, which is true of most corporations here in Hawaii. It was true when the Teruyas owned it, and it has not slackened under Quinn.”

Times has been a part of the fabric of Hawaii dating back to 1949, when a couple of Okinawan immigrants working the sugar cane plantations finally realized their dream of owning a grocery store. Despite the pressures of big box stores and national chain supermarkets’ arrivals in the Islands, Times has continued to grow to the point where it now boasts 24 stores in the company, with 17 bearing the Times moniker, and employs more than 1,600 local residents.

Times has been a local favorite because of its reputation for fresh produce and quality steaks, and recently bucked the modern trend of forcing customers to have a “rewards card” in order to realize certain discounts.

“We decided to offer the deals to everyone. Loyalty cards have their benefit, but for me it is just one more card you have to carry in your wallet,” says Stout, who struggled with the choice for years before finally doing away with the Royal Card. “I would rather open the savings to everyone. It is cheesy when you see one price on the shelf and it rings up for more and they tell you that you need their card. We should be fair with everyone, isn’t that what aloha is all about?”

Taking care of customers was job one when Stout took over the stores, wanting to get back to the roots of what drew people to Times in the first place. He maintains it is a simple business, and being friendly and helpful goes a long way toward keeping the job even simpler.

“I tell people we sell meat and potatoes, fish and rice to people,” says Stout. “It is not anything fancy, but if you do the basics well, it is a great business to be in as long as you love the public. Because if you don’t love the public, don’t go into the grocery business!”

While Stout is very proud of all the giving that his company does with the varied charities locally, from the American Heart Association to MDA to Hawaii Foodbank, he acknowledges that it is not the spirit of the company that makes that happen, but the generosity of his customers.

“One thing you cannot emphasize enough is how generous the people of this state are,” says Stout, who 10 years in is still amazed by the aloha spirit. “I have never seen it anywhere else like the amount the people of Hawaii are willing to contribute. Even in the down economy, the numbers people give grow every year.”

Unfortunately not everyone in Hawaii can afford to give, which is where Hawaii Foodbank steps in as a go-between from the haves to the have-nots, a charity wholesaler, if you will. It collects, warehouses and distributes food to more than 250 agencies, serving more than 400 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters statewide.

Daily it distributes 53,000 pounds of food, which added up to 11.8 million pounds last year statewide.

When the times are good, the donations made by all the grocers of Hawaii can fill most of the needs of the hungry in this state. Times was there at the inception of the charity, with the Teruyas serving as some of the first board members when Hawaii Foodbank opened in 1984.

“Times has been a very important part of our organization from the beginning, not just through food, but money as well,” says Grimm. “I can tell you just in the money they have raised they have helped us supply 1.3 million meals. In the past five years they have contributed 5 million pounds of food. This is food that is close to expiration or a product that changes brand or they change labels. They make sure we can distribute the food to the agencies that need it.”

But when times are lean and with the continued sluggishness of the economy, the food bank has seen a glut of new people needing its help, and the food donations are no longer enough to meet the need.

Last year Hawaii Foodbank only had to purchase 1.3 million pounds of food to supplement the donations it received. In the first three months of 2012 it doubled that number, buying up 2.6 million pounds just to stay ahead of demand.

“Sadly, they are having to buy food right now because they are not having enough donations, and the demand has risen so high in the state,” says Stout, who has to balance the desire of the company to help out the community with the need to keep the grocer in the black.

This leads to Times and other markets cutting back on orders to prevent waste, yet it is that very waste that feeds the underprivileged in this state.

Grimm understands, but it does not make his job any easier.

“The biggest problem is that people are buying less food, economizing,” says Grimm. “It trickles down, the public is ordering less food, so the grocers are ordering less food, so the growers are growing less food, so there is less food coming in. But that doesn’t change the fact that people still need more food.”

Hawaii Foodbank has fed more than 183,000 people in the past year – one of every eight people in Hawaii, most of whom have nowhere else to turn to feed their families.

Rationing has to be undertaken at many of the shelters and soup kitchens so that larger families are forced to visit two or three locations in order to get enough food to feed everyone. Yet even with these restrictions, it still beats the alternatives.

“I was talking to a lady at a shelter the other day and I asked her, how important is the food bank? What would you do to feed yourselves otherwise?” says Grimm. “She told me she would go back to what she used to do, take her kids to the store and steal the food.”