As founder Joyce Kawakami humbly describes her Feed My Sheep operation, she almost downplays the significance of her idea back in 1999 to start distributing food out of the trunk of her car to hungry folks. Feed My Sheep is different than some of the kitchens and church pantries in that they distribute bags of food to the needy in five different locations throughout the island every week, and once a month in Hana. They pass out bags of food that are packaged to last about a week, and Kawakami says they currently serve about 1,500 people every week.
“Give them food!” she says. “I started this as a youth leader. There were hungry teens. I bought them food and snuck them groceries so others wouldn’t know. But word got out. Then I started loading the trunk of my car with groceries. Next I had to get a truck. Now we have a beautiful fleet of donated trucks and locations in Kahului, Kihei, Lahaina, Haiku and Hana. I am so thankful to those that have partnered with us and donated to Feed My Sheep. We fed over 9,000 people in 2011.”
They recently changed their Central Maui food distribution site from a corner of Vineyard Avenue and Church Street in Wailuku (where they were located for eight years) to Christ the King Church in Kahului. Distribution takes place from 9:30am until noon.
The food is stored and processed at their Feed My Sheep site in Pu’unene, an area with land and containers donated by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar and their parent company Alexander & Baldwin. There they bag the food and load delivery trucks. Other partners include the Maui Food Bank, churches that donate food, farmers who give fresh produce and other individuals and businesses in the community.
“The CDC has identified a link between poverty and obesity,” says Kawakami. “We only see this in the US. Processed foods are the worst for you yet they are the cheapest. Right now our focus is to provide more fresh food and less processed foods. Last Thursday, we gave out 4,000 pounds of pineapple and papaya.
“We love what we do,” Kawakami continues. “Our staff is college educated and dedicated to feeding people. We don’t make a lot of money doing this but this is our passion. We have about 400 volunteers.”
Most of the food is donated, but some is purchased. Kawakami says Feed My Sheep will be bringing in a container of rice soon. She says feeding homeless people is tougher since they can’t cook rice or beans. She tries to give them fresh fruits and veggies that can be eaten raw, but sometimes processed foods as well. Kawakami estimates they hand out around 15,000 pounds of food every week.