Making a Difference: Nourishing with Aloha
Connecting those with more food than they need to those in need of food.
Chris Chun hopes that someday she’ll have to find a new job. “I would love to say that we’ll go out of business, but we’ve had hunger from the days of Jesus and it will probably be that way forever.” Chun is the co-executive director of Aloha Harvest, a local nonprofit that picks up food from hotels, grocery stores, restaurants and more, and then donates it—free of charge—to homeless and domestic abuse shelters, churches and other organizations. So far the nonprofit has delivered 400,000 pounds this year alone.
Aloha Harvest, founded in Nov. 1999, adopted the concept from a nonprofit in New York City, called City Harvest. Hauoli Mau Loa Foundation, a local philanthropist organization, worked with nonprofit activist, Helen ver Duin Palit—who lives in Hawaii part time, and likewise organized City Harvest and Angel Harvest in L.A.—to establish a nonprofit for the hungry in Hawaii.
The nonprofit serves as the link between the food service industry and individual donors to organizations that directly feed those in need of food. Aloha Harvest isn’t like the Hawaii Foodbank, though, which charges a nominal fee for some of its high demand food. “We believe that if the food is donated for free, we in turn should give it for free,” says Chun.
Aloha Harvest has given more than four million pounds of food in the last decade, most of it fresh food and prepared meals. According to USDA figures for food costs in Hawaii, that totals $10.6 million in donated food.
The process begins with a phone call. A donor such as KFC or Meadow Gold calls Aloha Harvest and informs them that they have fried chicken or dairy products that they’d like to donate and an Aloha Harvest driver loads the food into a 60-ft. refrigerated truck. He then calls a couple of the 120 recipient agencies—from Waianae to Kaneohe—to see if they could use the food and then delivers it to them.
“The [recipient organizations] are able to take whatever they need from the truck,” says Kuulei Williams, also executive director of Aloha Harvest. “Food for domestic abuse shelters with four families to huge organizations that feed 300 people at a time.” She adds that the nonprofit has no storage facilities, so the food the drivers pick up is donated that day. “Our drivers are good about knowing what organization can use what [type of] food so nothing is wasted,” she says. “It’s like Santa coming to town. Opening the truck is like opening presents.”
Aloha Harvest also educates food service organizations that might be hesitant to donate surplus food for fear of liability. For example, federal and state Good Samaritan Laws allow organizations to donate food without being held responsible if the recipient were to get sick. “It protects the donor and allows them peace of mind to donate,” says Williams.
The nonprofit accepts all types of food—except for homemade goods—from catered leftovers from a corporate gathering or wedding, restaurants, hotels, canned food drives, even mothers who have unused baby formula they want to donate. Aloha Harvest also accepts food that grocery stores can no longer sell by law, but that are still safe to consume. “It’s a great concept,” say Chun. “We take food that would normally be thrown away and give it to those who need it.”
With economic uncertainty looming ahead, Aloha Harvest is in greater demand than ever. Chun remarks that in the six years she has been working for the nonprofit, in the last three months she’s seen a dramatic increase in people calling who are in need of food, as well as agencies calling to donate their overstock because of increased food prices. But Chun maintains that this delicate balance ensures help for everyone. “You can’t jump on the doomsday bandwagon. There is more than enough, you just have to look at different alternatives,” she says. “People can help make a difference.”
HOW TO HELP: If you have food you want to donate, contact Aloha Harvest at 537-6945 or visit www.alohaharvest.org.
See the Aloha Harvest Slideshow with more photos.