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Kalihi nonprofit seeks donations for Thanksgiving

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The Susannah Wesley Community Center in Kalihi is running out of food to distribute to the needy and is holding an emergency Thanksgiving donation drive-thru Saturday. Bags of groceries awaited pickup Thursday.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The Susannah Wesley Community Center in Kalihi is running out of food to distribute to the needy and is holding an emergency Thanksgiving donation drive-thru Saturday. Bags of groceries awaited pickup Thursday.

Having struggled to keep up with the demand at its food giveaway program, the nonprofit Susannah Wesley Community Center now risks running out of food before Thanksgiving.

Demand at the center has tripled during the coronavirus pandemic in part because it serves families in the Kalihi ZIP code, which has Oahu’s highest proportion of COVID-19 cases: 1,998 cases as of Thursday.

The health crisis, combined with an unemployment rate that has ranked among the 10 highest in the state, has led to an increase in the need for food distribution in the Kalihi area, said Joni Chun, the center’s executive director.

“On an annual basis, we’ve historically distributed approximately 30,000 pounds of food per year, an average of 2,500 pounds per month,” Chun said. “With the impacts of COVID, we’ve been distributing an average of 7,500 pounds per month.”

Pre-pandemic, she added, the center’s food pantry was distributing free food to an average of 530 individuals a month; that number has now swelled to 2,300 people a month.

To replenish their pantry in time to prevent hunger during the holidays, the center will hold an emergency food drive from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

Members of the public are asked to bring canned and packaged food to donate at the center in a contactless, drive-thru process.

The center, whose mission is to assist “our youth and families, newcomers, the poor and disenfranchised through services that strengthen and empower individuals and families,” according to its website, has long been hosting an emergency food pantry and distributing food twice weekly to income-eligible members of the Kalihi community.

To reduce the risk of transmitting the highly contagious virus during the pandemic, “we shifted to a contactless delivery so that (recipients) don’t need to sign anything — we do verbal registration, they just come in one door, out one door, and they’re on their way,” Chun said.

As a partner agency of Aloha United Way and an affiliate of the United Methodist Women as a National Mission Institution, “we’ve been blessed to have some funds come through AUW, about $15,000, that pays for part-time staff who help run the food pantry and organize food pickups,” Chun said, “but for the (food) we do rely on contributions.”

Recently, however, she said, their usual food donation sources have not been enough to fill the growing need, and the center has had to purchase food to give away.

If they prefer, she added, people can donate money to the nonprofit to purchase food.

The center was recently recognized by the state Attorney General’s Office for its involvement in the Shine the Light operation, a joint task force effort in which government agencies and local nonprofits went out to locate missing teens suspected of being trafficked.

Most of the center’s clients, Chun said, tend to be immigrants living in multigenerational households, some of whom speak little English and many of whom have been laid off from work in the hospitality industry.

“During these challenging times, we strive to serve as a beacon of hope by offering food and nourishment to the most vulnerable in our community,” Chun said.

Recommended food items are unexpired cans of fruit, veggies, Spam, chili and chicken noodle soup and 2-pound bags of rice in the original packaging; donations will be consolidated and distributed the following week. SWCC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and donations are tax-deductible.

There will be sign holders along Kalihi Street directing drivers to the Susannah Wesley Community Center at 1117 Kaili St., in whose mauka parking lot volunteers will meet donors at their cars to unload food donations and provide a receipt, Chun said.

For more information, visit susannahwesley.org.

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