Hawai‘i Foodbank Has Distributed More Than 3.7 Million Pounds of Food on O‘ahu in Less than 2 Months
Tuesday, June 9, will be the final distribution for a special program created to give thousands of struggling local families food. But the need will continue and the Hawai‘i Foodbank needs your help.
photos: david croxford
The gates were scheduled to open at 10 a.m. People were asked not to arrive before 7. But by 6:30 a.m., cars were backing up on the freeway. For hours, drivers slowly inched their way into Aloha Stadium, toward boxes of fruit and vegetables, cartons of eggs, bags of bread and cereal. And at the juncture of it all were glimpses of a logo that meant the end of the wait and the beginning of help: the logo of the Hawai‘i Foodbank, one of our most meaningful Best of HONOLULU winners this year.
Even before unemployment here skyrocketed from 2.4% in March to an estimated 22.3% in a single month—almost reaching America’s historic high of 24.9% in 1933—and before the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed here on March 6, the food bank’s director of food drive and events, Beverly Santos, says the nonprofit started ordering more food in preparation. From March 1 through mid-May, the group distributed more than 3.7 million pounds of food on O‘ahu, 61% more than last year, while donations of shelf stable food dropped as people were ordered to stay at home.
Then the city, Hawai‘i Community Foundation, Bank of Hawai‘i Foundation and providers ranging from the Hawai‘i Farm Bureau to Sysco Hawai‘i created the Food for Hawai‘i’s ‘Ohana program that distributed care packages to an estimated 4,000 households at its biweekly drive-thru from April 30 until its final distribution on June 9. On the day we took photographs in mid-May, the first cars were let in at 8:30 a.m., an hour-and-a-half ahead of schedule, as masked food bank workers and about 200 volunteers deftly guided drivers, loaded their cars and waved them through, some throwing a shaka as a farewell. The operation was efficient and energized and sometimes deeply personal. Santos met one man who was receiving assistance for the first time. He, his wife, their pregnant daughter and her husband were all furloughed from hotel jobs. “He was in tears when he shared with me that the food he received at the distribution took so much weight off his shoulders so he could pay the rent,” she says.
The need is only expected to increase. This summer, the food bank will also focus on feeding kids who usually depend on schools for their meals and prepare people for hurricane season. The annual food drive is set for Aug. 15. Santos says money donations are best. The nonprofit’s partnerships can stretch a $10 donation into meals for 25 people.
Though it seems we’re looking at more challenging months ahead, Santos says her team is driven by those they know count on them. “As one employee said, ‘I drive home wondering what I should make for dinner, but it’s sobering to know there are people in our ‘ohana wondering if they will have anything for dinner.”