The Hawaii Foodbank is moving in new directions under the leadership of a former TV journalist who moved into the world of nonprofits after reporting the stories of Hawaii residents for three decades.
“Now my mission is to tell Hawaii Foodbank’s story,” says Ron Mizutani, who left KHON-TV eight months ago to become president and CEO of an organization that reaches approximately 175,000 Hawaii residents on a daily basis.
That translates into about one in eight residents of Oahu and Kauai who rely on Hawaii Foodbank for their next meal.
Working out of warehouses on Oahu and Kauai, Hawaii Foodbank distributed more than 6,250 tons of food to over 200 partner agencies in Fiscal Year 2018. The food is free to the agencies and recipients, although the agencies pay maintenance fees.
Maui and Hawaii counties have their own food banks.
Mizutani says the demand for food is increasing.
“It’s hard for the estimates to reflect the needs out there,” he told me. “We know the [estimates] are low.”
Mizutani and his staff of 46 full-time and part-time workers got two scares this past summer, shortly after he took the Hawaii Foodbank job. First, Hurricane Lane, and then Hurricane Olivia threatened direct hits on the Islands. The food bank’s 23,668-square-foot Oahu warehouse sits in flood-prone Mapunapuna, and a direct hit on Honolulu would have wiped out the entire food supply. Also, if Honolulu Harbor was forced to close, assistance from the outside world would come only by air.
Hawaii Foodbank was down to a nine-day supply, but it saw the storms as an opportunity. It delivered food and drinks to two shelters that had been set up at Farrington and McKinley high schools and were asking for help.
“We showed that we were able to respond,” Mizutani said.
Feeding the needy in Hawaii has pretty much been left up to nonprofits, churches and private citizens, with little government assistance. Mizutani noted that the public disaster plans following the hurricanes focused more on restoring the infrastructure than on feeding the victims. Food was not part of the conversation.
That is beginning to change, he says. His top priority is crafting a resilience plan that involves both the public and private sectors.
“We hope to have a voice in the Legislature this year,” he said, noting that model programs in places such as Alaska, Texas and New Orleans can offer guidance.
Hawaii Foodbank gets most of its food from retailers such as supermarket chains, farmers, and private citizens through food drives. It also buys food from California and Minnesota suppliers, and cargo carriers Matson, Pasha and Young Brothers are good partners.
The food bank welcomes donations of both non-perishable items and cash. Mizutani says cash donations are especially welcome because the food bank can negotiate deeper discounts than private donors can.
To that end, Hawaii Foodbank is holding its first-ever holiday food drive this Saturday (Dec. 22) from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at its 2611 Kilihau St. warehouse in Mapunapuna. The warehouse is located at the Diamond Head end of Kilihau Street on the Mauka side of Nimitz Highway.
Mizutani says Hawaii Foodbank is in a position to assist the state’s residents outside Oahu, just as it has on Kauai. He says the Maui food bank is in good shape, but Hawaii County has been hit hard by natural disasters. He is in talks with the Big Island regarding possible partnerships.
As he works to broaden the food bank’s visibility and reach, Mizutani is strengthening its internal structure through the creation, in addition to the board of directors, of Alakai, a board composed of young community leaders.
“Alakai means the value of leadership and is a quality desired in managing and leading,” he said. “It includes coaching, guiding and mentoring others to support their growth and development. That’s what this group will represent – young leaders who are passionate about ending hunger in Hawaii.”
Mizutani described the group’s initial gathering in November as “beyond amazing and far greater than I could have imagined. It is a group of rock stars with large networks and strong community ties.”
The former journalist has fond memories of his time at KHON, but he turned 53 this year and is now a grandfather, and the time seemed right to connect with the community in new ways. His years as a board member of Easter Seals Hawaii provided him with a knowledge of and passion for nonprofit service, as well as an appreciation for the challenges he faces.
I asked him if anything has surprised him in his first eight months on the job.
“I knew I would love the job,” he replied. “I didn’t realize how much I would love it.”
Contact Hawaii Foodbank President and CEO Ron Mizutani at firstname.lastname@example.org.