Extra folks than ever in Hawaii are asking for meals help through the coronavirus disaster
With Hawaii’s economy tanked due to the coronavirus pandemic, more people than ever are reaching for food to feed their families.
Grocery promotions and giveaways across the state draw large numbers of people as officials strive to meet demand.
Ron Mizutani, president and CEO of Hawaii Foodbank, said the situation was giving him sleepless nights.
“I can see the shelves emptying and it really scares me,” said Mizutani from his office. “But we have survived the storm so far.”
Demand at Hawaii Foodbank has increased by around 56% since mid-March. Typically the board hands out nearly 1 million pounds of food each month. But, he said, the organization is well on its way to nearly doubling that total for April.
Photo Gallery: Hawaii Foodbank and Hawaii Farm Bureau work together to provide healthy food to those in need
“That is unprecedented. The needs are incredible, ”said Mizutani.
At the Salvation Army, demand has increased from 10,000 cartons of groceries or meals a month before the COVID-19 crisis to 12,000 a week.
And that doesn’t even count the huge drive-thru giveaway on Saturday at the Ala Moana Center, where eggs, bread, milk and potatoes were distributed to thousands of needy people who stood in line for miles.
“We expected it to be big. Nobody knew the line would be that long, ”said Victor Leonardi, the Salvation Army’s operations commander for the COVID-19 response in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.
A recent food trip at the Kroc Center in Kapolei may have given a clue. People stood in line two hours before the start. When it started, 400 bags of food disappeared in 13 minutes, he said.
Leonardi said that all 140 Salvation Army food locations in Hawaii are seeing increases in weekly demand and some locations are doubling and tripling.
“That got everyone on a loop,” he said.
Business is booming at Aloha Harvest, Hawaii’s largest nonprofit that rescues excess quality food for delivery to shelters, pantries, and transitional homes.
In a typical week, the organization rescues £ 25,000 to £ 30,000 of groceries from grocery stores, restaurants, events, and other dining venues. Since the coronavirus emergency began, that number has tripled in two weeks, fueled by numerous store closings and event cancellations, and prompting Aloha Harvest to expand from three to eight trucks, said “Phil” Augustus Acosta, Executive Director.
While demand has flattened since then and could even dry up at some point, Acosta expects the work for the island’s starving people to see only more demand in the coming weeks and months, and Aloha Harvest is already evolving to meet the growing demand .
“Unfortunately, the economic impact will far outlast the public health crisis,” said Acosta.
Hawaii has had more than 200,000 jobless claims since the state closed due to emergency orders last month. When schools closed, families who depended on free or subsidized school meals to feed their children faced even greater hardship.
Mizutani said Hawaii Foodbank typically spends $ 33,000 a month on grocery purchases. In the past four weeks alone, the agency has spent $ 640,000 on food and supplies to help tackle the COVID-19 emergency. In April, he said, the tablet plans to spend an additional $ 350,000 to $ 500,000 to meet growing demand.
Mizutani said the crisis only made it difficult to accomplish the tablet’s mission. Many of the organizations that normally donate large amounts of food have closed. Restaurants and hotels have closed their doors while some grocery stores, which usually share unsold inventory approaching the best before date, have little to donate due to their own demand.
In addition, Hawaii Foodbank is seeing a sharp decline in its volunteer workforce, he said, as many of the volunteers are elderly in need of housing for their own health and safety at home.
“Our warehouse is working as efficiently as possible, but there are a lot of Pukas on our shelves,” said Mizutani.
The challenge right now is getting groceries to Hawaii as soon as possible. Seven containers of rice and other groceries were ordered, he said, but “the journey across the Pacific Ocean is something we have no control over.”
Meanwhile, Hawaii Foodbank announced on Tuesday a partnership with the Hawaii Farm Bureau that will help maintain agriculture for farmers and ranchers while strengthening the agency’s food aid programs.
As part of the program, Hawaii Foodbank pledged to purchase $ 200,000 worth of local farm produce.
Several foundations support the initiative, including the Harold KL Castle Foundation, the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Ulupono Initiative, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.
“Thanks to various grants and other funding, these grocery purchases by the Hawaii Foodbank will provide farmers and ranchers with much-needed income and enable them to continue their operations. This partnership, in turn, ensures that this locally grown food is distributed to those most in need, ”said Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau, in a press release.