It’s Time To Check Out Hunger In Hawaii

(from left) Bob Stout, president of Times Supermarkets, Polly Kauahi, director of development for Hawaii Foodbank, and Gerald Shintaku, Kraft Foods Hawaii customer business manager. Jo McGarry photo

Grocery store shelves are already packed with boxes of stuffing and cans of pumpkin pie mix, and that means it’s time for the annual Check Out Hunger campaign.

The largest fundraiser for the Hawaii Foodbank is now in its 20th year, and the program continues to thrive, largely thanks to the participation of Kraft Foods Hawaii and the efforts of local supermarkets.

Gerald Shintaku, Kraft’s Hawaii customer business manager; Polly Kauahi, director of development for Hawaii Foodbank; and Bob Stout, president of Times Supermarkets, kicked off the annual campaign last week, appropriately surrounded by hundreds of pounds of food. For the food bank, the fundraiser is a lifeline.

“More than 183,000 people use the food bank,” says Kauahi, providing statistics that are almost unbelievable: Nearly 12 million pounds of food distributed last year; 32 percent of households in Hawaii having to chose between paying for transportation or food …. But the one statistic that stands out above all others: One in five children on Oahu don’t have enough to eat.

“The statistics speak for themselves,” says Kauahi. “Too many of our children are not getting the food they need.”

That explains the popularity of the green ticket checkout program, where customers pull off the now-familiar green tickets and add a small donation to their grocery bill.

“The most popular ticket by far is the $2.81 that feeds a child breakfast for a week,” says Kauahi. At half the price of a tabloid magazine or for less than the cost of a bag of chips, it’s easy to see why grabbing a green ticket to feed a hungry child during the holidays is an act that speaks to most shoppers.

The Check Out Hunger campaign has grown by leaps and bounds since Kraft Foods joined forces with Hawaii Foodbank. Gerald Shintaku is modest about the food giant’s involvement.

“We feel very fortunate that Polly came and asked us to participate many years ago,” he says. “When we said yes, we never realized it would blossom into something this big.”

Last year the campaign raised more than $213,000. “It’s the people of Hawaii who come through every year,” says Shintaku, “and the retailers that come together, too. Without them all, the program wouldn’t succeed.”

Bob Stout, president of Times Supermarkets, attributes the program’s success to the unique rapport local grocers have with their customers.

“We talk to our customers at the checkout,” he says. “There’s a lot of conversation between our cashiers and our customers, and we all understand the need for this program.”

Times, along with other participating supermarkets that include Tamura’s, Safeway, Don Quijote and KTA Stores, take their fundraising duties seriously. Last year the locally owned and operated Times stores raised more than $80,000.

“We’ve been involved since day one,” says Stout, “and we’re proud to work together with everyone to make this a success.”

More than 183,000 people will use the food bank this year – many are ordinary, hardworking people having a hard time making ends meet.

“In many cases, these donations feed hardworking people with two jobs,” says Kauahi. “We feed our children, our working families and our greatest generation – our kupuna, who once cared for us and now need our help.”

Help that involves purchasing more than 3 million pounds of food.

“It’s necessary just to keep our staples in stock,” says Kauahi.

“The need for the Hawaii Foodbank and for our community to come together is even greater today than ever before,” says Shintaku, who hopes to see a record-breaking giving season despite the still depressed economy. For Stout, his Times employees and the rest of our supermarkets around the state, helping Check Out Hunger is all part of giving back.

“Everybody wants to help the food bank,” says Stout. “When we all come together, we can.”

Happy eating!