Thousands of Oahu residents waited in long lines for hours on Thursday for 50 pounds of food provided by the City and County of Honolulu, the Bank of Hawaii Foundation, Hawaii Community Foundation and the Hawaii Foodbank.
The first day of the food assistance program took place at the Waipio Soccer Complex.
The program is for recently unemployed individuals and was set to begin at noon.
However, the line started at 5 a.m. and by 3:45 p.m., officers had to turn people away.
Traffic into and around Waipahu and Waipio was complete gridlock.
“When I was on the freeway and saw it backed up at multiple exits, I got choked up,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “Like I did last Sunday, just realizing how many people just need food.”
The CEO of the Hawaii Foodbank said the first person in line was in tears.
“The first guy in line was in a white truck. I’ll never forget it. He was already crying and, on the way out I gave him a big fist bump,” said Ron Mizutani, Hawaii Foodbank CEO who said he’d been crying throughout the day. “He said ‘I want to hug you but I can’t,’ I said keep the line moving and he knew.”
One woman drove to Waipio from Waianae.
“I thought it would be a nice day to come and see if I could get some food,” said Rita Pasalo, who hasn’t received any unemployment benefits yet. “However, it didn’t work out for me so we’re going to go the other way.”
Those who were able to make it inside were given fresh produce, meat, eggs, noodles, bread, tortillas, and more.
“There is 110 tons of food being distributed to Oahu residents, that’s unprecedented,” said Mizutani.
The city said they are aiming to have two distributions per week at venues across Oahu. Upcoming distribution locations, dates, and times are to be determined, and schedules will be posted on the Hawaii Foodbank’s website.
Multiple family pick-ups (two to three families per vehicle) are recommended and all orders will need to be picked up in a vehicle.
The Hawaii Foodbank said they’ve seen an unprecedented demand due to the financial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With an economic downturn, closures and shorter business hours, and increased unemployment, demand for Hawaii Foodbank food assistance has increased nearly 60% and is expected to continue to rise.
The City and the Hawaii Foodbank said they will learn from today’s event and work to make it easier for people at the next event.