There’s a lot to be proud of when Hawaii responds to a spike in food insecurity caused by the coronavirus shutdown. Efforts to assist those in need have grown rapidly since mid-March, when the home stay orders came into effect and much of public life came to a standstill.
Some are campaigns involving established food industry professionals working with nonprofits like The Salvation Army and Aloha Harvest. Others concern newly formed grassroots community groups.
Also key to much-needed support: contributions from the corporate sector, guidance and funding from government agencies, and a large contingent of volunteers.
Encouraging results include hot meals for senior citizens in the home, takeaway options for children from low-income households who have relied on school cafeterias for meals, and thousands of boxes of groceries distributed weekly to newly needy families.
While this demonstration of resourceful teamwork and generosity is remarkable, the scope of the apparent need is unfortunately staggering.
Nationwide, almost 250,000 residents registered unemployment in less than two months – around 30% of the state workforce. And Hawaii’s unemployment benefits were sluggish overall. In addition, most vacation days and layoffs are in low-wage jobs for service workers, hitting many households that have already lived from paycheck to paycheck.
No wonder thousands of cars line up hours before the Food for Hawaii’s Ohana sales events. A public-private partnership that includes Honolulu Hale, the Hawaii Foodbank, the Bank of Hawaii and the Hawaii Community Foundation has recently allowed unemployed people to collect £ 50 free food.
With state lawmakers weighing how to spend the bulk of the federal CARES Act’s funds, it’s encouraging that a small portion – $ 2 million – is earmarked for a program that will help all families with children who Get a free lunch in public schools or get help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps.
The new program will add around 24,000 families who are now SNAP recipients and around 20,000 more households.
After a planned hiatus, lawmakers plan to meet at the Capitol next month to consider additional budget changes and other measures. This should include the allocation of further resources to combat increasing food insecurity.
Long before COVID-19, Hawaii saw a growing need for assistance. In recent years, the Hawaii Foodbank estimated that 1 in 5 residents were in need during the year. Many households have chosen between paying for groceries and paying for rent or medicine and medical care.
The Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, which began distributing keiki take-away meals when schools closed after the spring break, points to pre-coronavirus data rating 40% of this expansive coastline as food unsafe.
In a recent report on kupuna hunger by the Hawaii Appleseed Nonprofit Center for Law & Economic Justice, food insecurity among the state’s over 60s was estimated at 5% to nearly 10% – an estimated 16,700 or more seniors are at risk to get hungry. An estimated 70% of the seniors in Hawaii can enroll in SNAP.
For many households, the coronavirus outbreak is a necessary focus on frugality. Increased paperback management and even a bit of gardening can help those struggling with economic fallout to recover. Nevertheless, the tireless work of many groups collecting, preparing and distributing food to those in need remains essential.
Hawaii’s post-pandemic recovery is likely to last for years. Legislators and others should look deeply into short term and long term solutions to food insecurity.