A line of traffic snaked back to the H-1 freeway today as residents waited in line for food at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex as part of a new assistance program for recently unemployed individuals during the coronavirus pandemic.
The program is a public-private partnership between the City and County of Honolulu, the Bank of Hawaii Foundation and the Hawaii Community Foundation.
“There’s a huge turnout right now,” said city spokeswoman Brandi Higa. “Traffic was a major issue we weren’t expecting.”
Just before 1 p.m., Higa did not have an estimate of how many people showed up, but said cars had begun lining up as early as 8:30 a.m. today, possibly earlier. The distribution line started about 11:30 a.m., earlier than scheduled. A line of cars was jammed along Kahuanui and Kahuapili streets in Waipahu earlier this morning, and police were helping to direct traffic.
About 2:30 p.m., traffic was still backing up in the east- and west-bound lanes of Farrington Highway as motorists waited to turn onto the road to the soccer complex.
“My friends, they’re sick and they’re stuck at home,” said Mercy Mariano, who drove through the line as volunteers placed grocery bags into her Nissan’s open trunk.
The food distribution by Hawaii Foodbank, originally scheduled from noon to 4 p.m., will continue as long as supplies are available, Higa said, adding that there is enough food for 4,000 households. It is the first of several large distributions planned in upcoming weeks in response to the economic slowdown from the coronavirus pandemic.
Each vehicle is expected to receive about 50 pounds of fresh, local produce, along with other products from local businesses. Families will be asked a handful of questions, including name, address, and employment status for information purposes only.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell canceled his regular press conference this afternoon to help hand out food instead at the event this afternoon.
“It broke his heart to see how many people were waiting, and that the situation is so dire it’s causing traffic,” said Higa. “He wants to help as many people as he can.”
More information on upcoming food distributions islandwide can be found at hawaiifoodbank.org.
Star-Advertiser staff photographer Cindy Ellen Russell contributed to this report.