By Katie Quinn
The Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank is growing up. Formally known as the Kaua‘i Food Bank, KIFB is celebrating its 23rd birthday in style with a Birthday Bash Aug. 18 at the Kaua‘i Veterans Center in Lihu‘e.
“We are Kaua‘i,” KIFB Board President Rowena Cobb said. “We were born and raised here, and we’re growing.”
The celebration will include live music, giveaways, stories of the food bank’s impact on Kaua‘i, and one major giveaway at the end of the night.
On Sept. 11, 1992, Hurricane ‘Iniki struck Kaua‘i, leaving thousands of people homeless and unemployed. In ‘Iniki’s aftermath, community leaders formed the Kaua‘i Food Bank, at that time operating under an O‘ahu-based nonprofit organization.
By 1994, the food bank was serving about 10,000 people a month, roughly 20 percent of the island’s population. In December of that same year, the Kaua‘i Food Bank established itself as an independent nonprofit food bank, after receiving a 501(c)3 designation. It’s that landmark which is being celebrated this month.
“Now we are focused on specific programs with a purpose, not just being a rotating door,” said Cobb, walking through the food bank’s warehouse on Waapa Road, just south of Nawiliwili Park. “We are pleased to have an able, passionate and dedicated staff that are always on the lookout on how to better serve the people of Kaua‘i.”
Cobb says she became treasurer by accident in 2010 when she missed an organizational meeting. When she missed a second meeting the following year, she was voted in as president. “I came back and they were waiting for me to call the meeting,” Cobb said. “I learned not to miss any more meetings.”
In 2010, the food bank added the word “Independent” to its business name, signaling a renewed focus on the families of Kaua‘i. The nonprofit’s legal name is still Kaua‘i Food Bank, Inc., but today it is widely known on the island as Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank.
In 2013, Cobb promoted then-Fund Development Director Kelvin Moniz to Executive Director. “He had been at the Food Bank for many years and knew who we were and what we needed to do”
Moniz has been working for KIFB since 1998, tending to operations behind the scenes, following a successful military career. Cobb says she saw Moniz’s devotion and skills and knew he could fill the position nicely.
“When I started, there weren’t many grants and funding sources; at times we dipped into our reserves in order to operate,” Moniz said. “In 2015, I was invited and accepted into the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Fellows program in Honolulu, and as we progressed, people started to believe in us more and more, and grants and other funding started to come in. Today, we can and will continue to move forward as we have been.”
Cobb and her team have successfully nurtured KIFB through its bumpy teenage years into a full-fledged adult, with its own clear vision and purpose.
That vision starts with Kaua‘i’s youngest and its most helpless.
“Children don’t ever say ‘I’m hungry,’” Cobb said. “Children are extremely silent when it comes to speaking about themselves.”
The beginnings of Keiki Café happened at the Waimea Boys and Girls Club in 2007. KIFB services 10 Keiki Cafés across the island in our schools and Boys and Girls Clubs. Students are provided with nutritious snacks, such as fresh fruits, granola bars and yogurt in the Café’s programs, bridging the period between lunch and dinner.
The “Backpack Program” was launched in 2008, when staff began noticing something strange in the Café’s snack lines.
“Kids in line were wrapping an extra sandwich in napkins and putting them in their backpacks or in their pockets,” Moniz said. “We told them, ‘Don’t worry, you can go back and get seconds,’ but they said, ‘No, this is for my brother or my sister at home.’ At that age, they were thinking of their younger brother or sister who couldn’t come to the Keiki Café.”
Each Friday during the school year, roughly 200 backpacks are filled with enough food to cover meals from Friday evening through Sunday, and are sent home with Kaua‘i’s most vulnerable children. Supervisors at each Café are responsible for selecting children to receive a backpack. Cobb said they try to be as discreet as possible.
KIFB has started using other packaging, to keep children from being identified and targeted as part of the program. Backpacks are distributed in five locations.
KIFB also operates other programs out of its warehouse in Lihu‘e, including the Kupuna Program for the island’s senior population, and the Uluwehi Emergency Distribution Program, which is available on an emergency basis for those who need food on a day when no pantries are open. Cobb says the Uluwehi program continually tells them many are in need of food on Kaua‘i.
While KIFB’s main focus is on distributing food, the workload behind the scenes is immense, utilizing three full-time staff, two contractors and three part-time employees. Moniz says significant time is spent receiving, identifying current dates, cleaning and checking food donations, sorting and making sure the food bank complies with state health and safety regulations. KIFB is audited annually by seven different government agencies, as well as contracted accountants.
“We’re not a homeless child,” Cobb said, “We are always watched.”
During this month’s Birthday Bash, KIFB’s board and staff will be sharing their stories with partygoers, weaving history and giveaways together through the evening.
“The people will continue to know who we are and what we do, as they hear directly from us,” Moniz said.
The celebration will be at the Kaua‘i Veterans Center at 3215 Kapule Hwy in Lihu‘e Aug. 18, starting at 5:30 p.m. There will be dinner, a no-host bar and lucky drawings. Tickets are $20, and are available at KIFB warehouse in Nawiliwili.
Local companies are sponsoring a range of prizes, but the major giveaway is still a closely guarded secret.
“You’ll want to use it wisely,” said a tight-lipped Cobb. “You will need to be present to take it with you!” she added, but said nothing more.
Platinum sponsors for the event include Cobb Realty, First Hawaiian Bank, JAA & Associates, Rotary Club of Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i Marriott Resort, Matson, Chung Restaurants of Kaua‘i, Inc. (McDonalds), Jeri Arin EA, LLC, and Lloyd Kajikawa. Gold sponsors include Wilcox Health and Coldwell Banker Makai Properties.
Visit www.kauaifoodbank.org or call 246-3809, ext. 4 for more information.