Aloha Harvest, a Hawaii-based nonprofit, is diverting food that would otherwise be wasted to combat food insecurity during COVID-19.
Roughly one in five Hawaii residents are food insecure, according to U.S. census data collected in July 2020. And since the pandemic began more than 250,000 Hawaii residents have filed for unemployment, further contributing to food insecurity.
Aloha Harvest is the recipient of a grant from ReFED, an organization that analyzes solutions to food waste. The ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund is helping organizations meet the increased demand for food assistance and decrease food waste during the pandemic.
“The ReFED grant is helping us to scale the impact of our mission,” Phil Acosta, Executive Director of Aloha Harvest, tells Food Tank. “We are able to add to our staff and fleet; support our local economy by purchasing local produce, fish, [and] other goods; and expand our food rescue and distribution efforts.”
Aloha Harvest is working directly with local farmers, ranchers, fishers, and distributors to get nutritious food to those in need around Hawaii. Staff and volunteers pick up excess food and redistribute it to food banks and other food agencies.
Since the onset of COVID-19, Aloha Harvest has processed nearly triple the amount of food compared to this time last year, says Acosta. To keep up with increased demand, they have increased their staff and expanded their work space to include a commercial kitchen and a warehouse equipped with dry and cold storage.
Acosta explains that the decline in tourism—a major employer of Hawaii residents—has hit Hawaii residents particularly hard. Thousands of hospitality workers have been out of work for months, and unemployment benefits are running low.
“The number of visitors to the islands is down to less than 10 percent of the level it was in previous years,” says Acosta. “Waikiki looks like a ghost town.”
The decline in tourists also impacts food service and manufacturing, local agriculture and fishing, and real estate, says Acosta. And while some businesses will eventually rebound from this decline, there is a fear that others may never fully recover.
But Acosta stresses that Aloha Harvest is committed to being a part of the solution.
“We are seeing more people, new people, relying on food assistance,” Acosta tells Food Tank. “Aloha Harvest is committed to exploring opportunities to better utilize our scarce food resources and being part of the solution to create a more resilient and sustainable food system.”
Photo courtesy of Izabelle Acheson, Unsplash