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Hawaii agencies rally to provide struggling families with Mother’s Day meals

  • Video by Rob Shikina / rshikina@staradvertiser.com

    Hundreds of packages of groceries were handed out Saturday in Laie in time for a hearty Mother's Day brunch on Sunday.

  • ROB SHIKINA / RSHIKINA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Volunteers handed out boxes of food and roses during a food distribution event a day before Mother’s Day on Saturday for those in need during the coronavirus pandemic at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie.

    ROB SHIKINA / RSHIKINA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Volunteers handed out boxes of food and roses during a food distribution event a day before Mother’s Day on Saturday for those in need during the coronavirus pandemic at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie.

Seven hundred packages of groceries were handed out Saturday in Laie in time for a hearty Mother’s Day meal.

The Salvation Army teamed up with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to hold the drive-thru food distribution at four locations statewide, providing enough food to make 12,000 meals. The other food distribution sites were on Maui and Hawaii island, in Kona and Hilo.

“It definitely puts a smile on my face,” said Michael Tovey, of Laie, who said he will use the food for a Mother’s Day meal today along with some turkey he saved from Thanksgiving.

The packages, which included goods donated to and purchased by the Salvation Army, contained produce; about 10 pounds of meat, including sirloin steaks and chicken; candy for children; a card that kids can color in for mom; and a rose.

The event was one of several food distribution events around Oahu that have been feeding thousands during the economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Salvation Army alone has about 140 feeding events across Hawaii every week.

Salvation Army Maj. Jeffrey Martin said the organization wanted to do a food distribution event in Laie because residents on the North Shore have also been severely distressed by the collapse of tourism in Hawaii.

The Polynesian Cultural Center, with more than 1,400 full-time and part-time employees, remains closed, along with Turtle Bay Resort and numerous small businesses in the area after the state ordered nonessential businesses to close to reduce the spread of the virus.

“It’s a long ways (to town) for people here to come,” Martin said. “There’s just nothing happening, so the employees here, many of them, (it’s) their first time to be unemployed and their first time to have to ask for assistance.”

Visitors keep coming

Meanwhile, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reported Saturday that 260 out-of-state visitors came to Hawaii by air on Friday, the heaviest day for visitor traffic since Hawaii’s tourism lockdown started. This was despite Gov. David Ige’s ordering all arriving tourists to self-quarantine for 14-days in their place of lodging without receiving visitors.

On March 26, the state began the mandatory self-quarantine for trans-Pacific passengers. The passengers that day included 268 visitors.

Arriving passenger counts remain well below last year, when most of the 30,000 or so passengers arriving daily were visitors.

In April 2019, 856,250 visitors came to Hawaii. Last year, 10.4 million visitors came to Hawaii, a $17.8 billion industry that supported 216,000 jobs. From March 26 through Friday, HTA reported that only 6,341 visitors came to Hawaii.

Most of the 129 Hawaii hotels that shutdown in mid-March are still closed and won’t reopen until Hawaii ends its passenger quarantine. For several weeks in April, hotels statewide sustained an occupancy rate of 10% or less.

Hawaii hotelier Jerry Gibson said hotels that are closed are operating with a shoe-string staff, and once they reopen will ramp up only to about the same level of occupancy.

The airlines serving Hawaii are barely flying and most have received permission from the U.S. Department of Transportation to keep it that way into August and September.

It’s so bad that tens of million from federal coronavirus aid wasn’t enough to prevent Hawaiian Airlines from a devastating first quarter loss. The carrier lost $144.4 million in the first quarter of this year as compared with a gain of $36.4 million during the first quarter of 2019.

“April is going to be the worst month in the history of every hotel with which I’m affiliated. May and June will be almost as bad,” said Ben Rafter, CEO of OLS Hotels & Resorts, a hotel management company.

New cases

Saturday marked the end of the third week in a row that Hawaii officials reported new cases of the coronavirus in the single digits. That day, the state Department of Health reported three new cases in the preceding 24 hours, bringing the statewide total to 631. Nationally, there were 1.3 million cases and nearly 72,000 deaths attributed to the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Hawaii’s death toll from the virus stood at 17 Saturday, unchanged from a week prior, when a Maui woman with underlying health conditions died at Maui Memorial Medical Center. The state said the coronavirus may have been a factor in her death, but the hospital said a preliminary investigation found her death was not attributed to the coronavirus.

State officials said 551 people have been released from isolation after testing positive for the virus in Hawaii. Since early March, 37,372 coronavirus tests have been completed in Hawaii as of Friday, with only 1.7% coming back positive.

In Laie, the distribution event at the Polynesian Cultural Center began about 9 a.m. and was finished before noon. All motorists who showed up received food, a Salvation Army spokesman said.

Martin, of the Salvation Army, said Saturday’s distribution was about more than meeting the physical needs of those struggling economically.

“It is the mental health,” he said. “It is the discouragement people might face when they know that they don’t have the money to buy anything for their mother or the husbands to buy for their wives.

“And then all of a sudden the mother has a rose,” he said. He added that the hope was the Mother’s Day-themed food distribution would help recipients realize “they can have something good in the midst of these difficult times.”

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