For the second time in a week, thousands of cars lined up for more than a mile and waited for hours to pick up 50 pounds of free food.
This time it was at the Aloha Stadium parking lot, where cars began showing up as early as 7 a.m. Wednesday for the “Food for Hawaii‘s Ohana” giveaway scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
Cars were backed up more than a mile along Kahuapaani Street, as far as the H-3 freeway off-ramp.
The giveaway is part of a public-private partnership between the City and County of Honolulu, the Hawaii Foodbank, the Bank of Hawaii and Hawaii Community foundations to provide food assistance to recently unemployed individuals.
Organizers estimated just over 100 tons of food were distributed on Wednesday to approximately 4,000 households.
Last Thursday, the first “Food for Hawaii’s Ohana” was held at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex, where volunteers also handed out 50 pounds food to about 4,000 households.
“The needs are great, and that’s what you’re seeing,” said Ron Mizutani, CEO of Hawaii Foodbank on-site.
The wait, as with last week’s event, averaged four hours, but police officers managed the traffic, and drivers waited patiently in their cars as they wound their way through the stadium parking lot to reach the food distribution tents.
Volunteers distributed bags of fresh produce, including a pineapple, papayas and tomatoes, along with bread, potatoes, frozen chicken and juice donated by local farmers and companies.
“It’s a really healthy grocery list folks can take home and feed a family for a week or two, hopefully,” said Mizutani. “This is just temporary and we know that’s not the answer to it all. It breaks my heart that not everybody who’s going to be lined up today, once again, will get served.”
Mizutani said the distribution line began half an hour early, and that the goal was to make sure everybody in line goes home with something.
Some who waited in line had three generations in a car, including mom, dad, a daughter and grandkids.
Those in line for the distribution are asked a few questions, including their names, whether they are recently unemployed due to the pandemic, the number of adults and children in their home, and whether they are receiving public assistance.
No one, however, is turned away, said Mizutani, and everyone receives food as long as supplies last.
Among those waiting were Brent Gaston of Kaimuki and Jennifer Nacino of Honolulu.
Gaston runs Island Tour and Shuttle Company, which specializes in tours for student groups from Japan and Korea. His last run was in March before “stay-at-home” orders went into place.
While he works as an Uber driver part-time, serving a few locals, times are still tough.
Nacino works numerous jobs, including as security for the Honolulu Museum of Art, and as a banquet server. The museum had to lay off some staff, and she hasn’t had any shifts for banquets since early February. She also got hired by the Census Bureau, but was recently let go from that job, as well.
“It’s hard trying to make ends meet, and paying the rent,” she said.
Veronica Ascencion of Honolulu works for the state’s legal department. She is a widow and single mother supporting her two daughters and grandchildren. She recently volunteered to help process unemployment claims.
“It’s very sad,” she said. “Some have been with their employers over 30 years, and some are multiple part-timers.”
Asencion herself said she was anxious about feeding her family because of possible budget cuts or furloughs on the horizon without any cushion in place.
Volunteer Chrissy Mitchell said it has been an eye-opening and heart-warming experience seeing the volume of people coming through.
The people driving through represent all walks of life, she said. Some get emotional and cry, and others avoid eye contact, but most give a shaka or say “thank you” as food is loaded into their trunks. She said there is no shame at all in receiving food.
As part of the program, the city matched a $1 million donation from the Hawaii Resilience Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation for COVID-19 relief efforts, bringing the total to $2 million. Funds go to the Hawaii Foodbank to deploy food distributions at the new locations across Oahu, in addition to ones that already exist through 200 partner agencies islandwide.
Four partners – Sysco Hawaii, Hawaii Foodservice Alliance, Hawaii Ranchers Kauai, Hawaii island, Maui and Oahu, and the Hawaii Farm Bureau — are providing food for the events.
Another “Food for Hawaii’s Ohana” event is scheduled for Friday at Leeward Community College, and more are slated for Aloha Stadium, said Mizutani. Details will be posted at hawaiifoodbank.org.