Christmas parade food drive to fill pantry shelves


West Hawaii’s three Rotary clubs are taking on a big project to stock the shelves at The Food Basket just before Christmas.

Rotary Club of Kona, Kona Mauka and Kona Sunrise are turning the annual Christmas parade, on Dec. 15, into a food- and fund-generating event, Kailua-Kona Community Parade Association Chairman Clifford Kopp said.

Nani Lee, executive director of The Food Basket, said if the clubs reach their monetary and food donation goals, it could keep the shelves full for about a month. An independent survey of Hawaii Island estimated about 27 percent of island children are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where they’ll get their next meal. That high figure — higher than the state average of 20 percent — means some of those island schoolchildren likely got their first real meal in over a week on Tuesday, when school resumed after the fall break, Lee said.

It’s a problem people who do have resources for food sometimes forget exists.

“Hungry people look like everybody else,” Lee said. “You can’t tell by looking the difference between a child who went to bed hungry and one who ate three balanced meals.”

The Food Basket can provide enough food to give a child breakfast for a week for $3, Lee said. About $12.50 will feed a senior lunch for a month. A family of four to six can eat dinner for a week on about $17. The organization can also leverage donations into greater buying power for food.

Financial donations can help the organization get food to people, run soup kitchens and maintain the food pantries on which so many island residents rely, Lee said.

“Families used to be two family members working,” she said, whereas now many families have one breadwinner who lost a job, one working reduced hours or a combination of both. “Our soup kitchens have seen a phenomenal growth.”

That’s how the Rotarians’ push can be so helpful, she said.

“It’s a huge endeavor, one I would not be able to undertake with my limited staff,” she said.

Rotary is seeking corporate support, with a goal of raising at least $16,000 in cash from those donors, Kopp said. Parade entrants will “pay” a fee of a 20-pound bag of rice, although they are encouraged to donate more. Businesses along the parade route may collect nonperishable food items or money prior to the parade and deliver those goods during the parade.

Rotarians and some high school students will also collect money and goods the day of the parade at up to nine West Hawaii grocery stores from Waikoloa to Captain Cook, Kopp said. Rotarians are also hoping parade attendees will bring along nonperishable food items for The Food Basket.