Demand for takeout meals from restaurants and free food distributions during Thanksgiving appeared to be up in Hawaii, and both are likely the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
With limitations on indoor dining in place, many local restaurants advertised Thanksgiving meals for pickup this year, which turns out to have been a popular option.
Tony Castillo, general manager of 53 by the Sea, said the restaurant had ordered 50 turkeys to make up 100 takeout packages for customers. They sold out last week.
He said the increased demand indicates that people had decided not to eat out if possible during Thanksgiving.
“I think people are just listening to the guidelines and suggestions on how to be safe,” Castillo said. “With the increases (in COVID-19 cases) across all of the states and even the world, it’s getting a little more real. … People are really listening and staying at home.”
The U.S. COVID-19 death toll exceeded 263,000 Thursday as the country continues to set records for deaths, new daily cases and hospitalizations.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell in a statement Thursday asked residents to “keep your Thanksgiving celebration limited to those in your household or no more than five people,” echoing guidelines from the federal government and health officials across the state and country to keep holiday gatherings small and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Social gatherings on Oahu are currently limited to five people, according to the city’s reopening strategy.
An “overwhelming response” to the Thanksgiving meals and packages led to increased Thanksgiving sales at Zippy’s, according to Daniel Ito, communications manager for the restaurant chain.
“We’ve seen an overwhelming response and sold out faster than any other year and sold more Thanksgiving packages than years prior,” he said.
Zippy’s advertised Thanksgiving turkey packages for families as well as turkey plates for individuals.
Sheryl Matsuoka, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, agreed that the increased takeout orders show that more people are eating at home instead of in restaurants.
She also said ordering food to celebrate Thanksgiving could be an attempt to experience some kind of normalcy, a commodity during a year in which daily life for most people in Hawaii and around the country has been upended during COVID-19’s nine-month grip on the country.
“What I’ve heard is that people are really yearning for … comfort food,” Matsuoka said. “You just want to eat the turkey and the gravy and the mashed potatoes, because … (you) just need some normalcy.”
Some of the Zippy’s orders — 1,500 turkey plates — went to families experiencing financial instability.
Family Promise for Hawaii, a nonprofit that supports homeless and low-income families, last week ordered the turkey plates using $20,000 in CARES Act money, according to Executive Director Samantha Church, and gave out coupons for the plates to the families it serves — an estimated 500 this year — and others in the community who have been affected by the coronavirus.
“We really focus on housing and shelter, but because of COVID, (food) has also become a really distinct need, so we’ve tried to provide extra resources in that area as well,” Church said.
Family Promise for Hawaii normally does an annual sit-down Thanksgiving meal for about a dozen families, Church said, but decided to use the federal funding to provide food for a much larger number of people.
On Oahu over 3,000 meals were distributed or delivered by the Salvation Army, according to Maj. Phil Lum, administrator and corps officer for the Salvation Army Kroc Center Hawaii. That exceeds the 1,800 or so people usually served during the annual sit-down meal the Salvation Army hosts at the Blaisdell Center.
The meal was canceled this year because of the coronavirus.
“There definitely is a need for food security — and not just food security, but just the fact that these are pretty tough economic times,” he said.
Lum said the first car in line for food at the Kroc Center Hawaii arrived at 5:30 a.m. — hours before the 9:30 a.m. start of the distribution event.
A silver lining of the slowed economy is that the staggering increase in COVID-19 cases that has hit most of the mainland has yet to reach Hawaii.
Hawaii health officials Thursday reported two additional coronavirus- related deaths on Oahu and 120 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 237 fatalities and 17,618 cases.
The new infections in Hawaii include 92 on Oahu, 14 on Maui, 11 the Big Island and three on Kauai, according to the Health Department. The statistics released Thursday reflect the new cases reported to the department through 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.