The numbers can be difficult to comprehend. According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, one in nine Americans were food insecure in 2018. That works out to more than 37 million people. In Hawaii, 161,270 people are currently food insecure, and of them, 53,540 are children.

Vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly and low-income households, are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, which is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.”

And it is often an invisible problem: We may have friends, neighbors, colleagues or classmates who don’t know when their next meal will be. Beyond physiological hunger, food insecurity can negatively impact workplace productivity, school performance, and a person’s overall physical, mental and emotional health.

That’s why Teresa Nelle of Island Sotheby’s International Realty signed up to volunteer for Feed My Sheep seven years ago. “No one should go hungry,” she said. “Especially if they are elderly or have medical issues.”

Established in 1999, Feed My Sheep is a mobile food distribution program that gives out bags of groceries—filled with enough food for seven days—every week at five distribution sites: Lahaina on Thursdays; Wailuku on Fridays; Kahului and Kihei on Saturdays; and Hana on the last Wednesday of the month. Every year, the nonprofit helps nourish thousands of people, including low-income families, seniors on fixed incomes and Maui’s unsheltered.

On any given Thursday morning, you’ll find Nelle at the Lahaina distribution site, which is located in the parking lot across the street from Maria Lanikila Catholic Church. There, she said, “I greet our friends and offer them a kind word, along with groceries for the week: fresh fruit, vegetables, bread or a dessert, and sometimes some meat, too. I also pray with them about anything weighing on their hearts. If they don’t want a prayer, that’s okay. I then wish them a good day.”

And Nelle and her fellow volunteers give out more than food—they also offer a listening ear and plenty of friendly conversation. The nonprofit goes to great lengths to make each distribution site a judgment-free zone where everyone feels safe and respected; the goal is to make every person who arrives feel like a friend by the time they leave (in fact, one of the organization’s mottos is “we don’t have clients, we have friends”). Nelle says there are many who look forward to the weekly distributions precisely for that reason. “For some people, particularly the elderly, I have a feeling this is their social time—otherwise they don’t see many people throughout the week,” she said.

Nelle encourages others to consider supporting Feed My Sheep, either as a volunteer or donor. “It’s a wonderful program that feeds the body, mind, and soul of our friends. Many of them are working poor or have some sort of medical issue that prevents them from working full time,” she explained. “If you are in Lahaina, come by any Thursday at 10 a.m.”

Volunteers are always needed to help pass out bags of groceries at one of the five distribution sites or to lend a hand pre-packing food at Feed My Sheep’s headquarters on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

To learn more about Feed My Sheep, to inquire about volunteer or donor opportunities or to view a list of distribution locations and times, visit www.feedmysheepmaui.com or call 872-9100. If you need food assistance, call 870-9421.

The Maui News – November 25, 2019

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