Hundreds of vehicles passed through the Salvation Army’s free food distribution drive-thru Saturday at Ala Moana Center, where eggs, bread, milk and potatoes were being handed out to thousands in need.
After the food line opened about 10 a.m. a line of cars wrapped around the inside of the shopping center’s parking lot and stretched down Kapiolani Boulevard past Ward Avenue, forming a line more than a mile long in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed the lives of nine people, sickened 486 and sent shock waves through the Hawaii economy.
The new coronavirus has left thousands of Hawaii residents without jobs as non-essential businesses shut down.
“There’s a lot of families who have been laid off,” said Salvation Army Maj. Jeff Martin, division leader of the organization’s Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division. “This is unprecedented because we have so many people out of work right now because the economy shut down.”
About 90 volunteers helped hand out the donated food — about 2,200 gallons of fresh milk, 4,300 dozen eggs, 3,000 loaves of bread and 5,000 pounds of Maui harvest potatoes.
Organizers said 643 cars went through the line and all the food was handed out by 1 p.m. All the people who waited in the line were able to pick up food before the operation ended.
Chad Buck and his wife, Stephanie, donated the food and worked with the Salvation Army to have the event set up within 72 hours.
Buck, owner of the distribution company Hawaii Foodservice Alliance, said he and his wife have been making food donations across the state and haven’t calculated how much it is costing, but he hopes other nonprofits see what he and the Salvation Army were able to do Saturday and offer to help.
“We didn’t feel like we had the luxury to wait because we got people that are hungry,” he said. “The hope is that some people see this and go, ‘How can we partner and do this again and again as long as there is a need?’ ”
Buck’s business has several hundred employees across the state and is one of the state’s largest distributors of perishable foods. He said his business gives about $2 million in food annually to the Foodbank.
“This is just the quickest way to get to the most people in need, which is why we put this event together,” he said. “You could not have a more visual confirmation of the need in Hawaii than this turnout. If you didn’t realize the magnitude yet, then you should know it today.”
Buck said he and his wife knew something needed to be done with more than 200,000 people unemployed in Hawaii. He contacted Victor Leonardi, incident commander for the Salvation Army’s COVID-19 response, on Wednesday about making a large donation. Leonardi called other organizations to see if a point of distribution could be set up. He said Ala Moana Center offered its parking lot and much of the logistics of the event came together only on Friday, including a public announcement of the event.
Leonardi, who has worked disaster operations for the Kilauea eruption and flooding on Kauai, said the coronavirus crisis has been a “disaster in reverse.”
“We’re walking into the disaster, the hurricane hasn’t hit us yet,” he said. “We don’t know when the worst will be over. But we’re serving through the storm versus after the storm.”
Ane Tranetzki, of Nuuanu, who picked up food Saturday, said it was his first time receiving help from a food distribution service. He and his wife were left jobless by the crisis and his two daughters, ages 10 and 12, were home from school. He said his grocery bill has shot up to the highest its been with his whole family at home. He is worried about the next few weeks and said the food distribution will buy him some time.
“I’m so grateful,” he said. “It brings tears to my eyes to see people helping out. It shows that there are a lot of good people, and I feel like it’s God’s work being done out here.”