The face of hunger has evolved, changed due to COVID-19; Hawaii Foodbank seeks to help those in need

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Food Bank faces unique challenges. With tourism being the islands number one industry, the need for food in 2020 has been astronomical. Thousands of families from all walks of life have been impacted by COVID-19.

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“During COVID, the face of hunger evolved and changed. A lot of it, because of unemployment, people losing their jobs, jobs being eliminated completely, and that’s where the needs increased immediately, and they stay consistent,” said Ron Mizutani, the Hawaii Foodbank CEO & President.

The lines at food distribution drives across the state have also been consistent since the pandemic began.

“Hunger is something that, you know, it can affect anybody at any time,” said Kim Bartenstein, the Director of Mission at the Hawaii Foodbank. “We’re all living paycheck to paycheck, and a lot of us right now, don’t have jobs, so it’s even worse for them,” Bartenstein said.

The Yaris family from Kapolei is one of thousands asking for help for the first time.

“I work hard, all my life, and I never ever thought I’d be doing this,” said Mavin Yaris.

Both Marvin Yaris and and his wife Ruby worked at hotels. When coronavirus hit the islands, their jobs in the tourism industry disappeared.

“With the money I had saved up, it’s like almost gone,” Marvin said.

Feeding his family of six has been stressful.

“When I look at my grandkids, my kids, they’re hungry,” Marvin Yaris said. “Before, ‘Like grandpa, can I have a chip? Oh, go, go!’ Now? The chips are gone,” he said about some of the heartbreaking conversations he has had to have with his family about food.

Food insecurity is an issue that has only worsened because of the financial impacts of COVID-19. Pre-COVID, about a million pounds of food would leave the Hawaii Foodbank’s warehouse every month. Since the pandemic began, that number has tripled.

“We understand that every person has a story. Every vehicle has a story. Every volunteer as a story,” Mizutani said. “When they come in line, even if they’re driving a Tesla, or BMW or Mercedes, and we get them, do not judge.”

Hawaii Foodbank’s annual budget is $400,000. The non-profit has already spent nearly $10 million buying food to meet the demand since March.

“Monetary donations allow us to really purchase food at a level that you and I could never go to the market and get,” said Mizutani. “I want to make sure that people understand that there is assistance out there.”

The Yaris family said the assistance from the Hawaii Foodbank has saved them during these tough times.

“When this happened, I cried, but I needed… So I put myself, my pride on the side, and I went. I was ashamed, but when I went home, I separated the food and ate. I thanked God, and I said, ‘Look! There is somebody, somebody out there helping us.'”

Marvin Yaris said when the pandemic is over and he is able to, he will return the favor.

“In return, I’m going to give back to them,” Yaris said.

To register for a pop-up food distribution event, click here. To donate to the Hawaii Food Bank, click here.

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