IWILEI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The demand for food by the less fortunate living in Hawaii has the state's largest homeless service provider struggling to keep up.
In an interview Tuesday, a spokesman for the Institute for Human Services said the reason for the big growth is two-fold. He said there is a constant stream of people who are falling into homelessness, along with others who have a home but need help with groceries in order to stay afloat.
Inside the kitchen at the IHS men's shelter on Tuesday afternoon, staff were already busy prepping dinner — right as lunch was being served.
"We cook everyday. Three meals a day," says Angela Taumua, a cook with the agency. "On the menu for lunch is chicken casserole, corn on the cob, spicy chips and yogurt with fresh strawberry fruit."
Last year, IHS officials say they served an average of 750 meals a day. Over the past 12 months that number has gone up substantially — it's now common for staff to dish out as many as 900 meals in a single day.
During Tuesday's lunch service, the dining hall was packed. Folks living at the shelter got first dibs on the food, while a line of hungry people stood outside, waiting to get in.
Simeon Kumuhone told Hawaii News Now that he stays in Waianae, but dropped by for a free meal because he was in town.
"The rent is really high. It's hard for people to pay for it. That's why we lucky we get this kind of shelter where they feed people," Kumuhone said.
A spokesman for IHS says the shelter is seeing more people stop in for meals because they can't afford both rent and food. The majority of the demand, though, comes from an influx of new homeless people living on the street.
"We continue to see a lot more people fall into homelessness at a quicker rate than we're able to move them out of homelessness and into permanent housing," said Kimo Carvalho.
Over the past year, IHS outreach workers have identified 820 new homeless people in a regions that spans Windward Oahu, Waikiki and parts of Urban Honolulu.
In addition to all the new people, food donations from the community are down, especially from churches and other community groups.
"We don't get ample USDA food credits to purchase this amount of food for this amount of people every year, so we do need more resources in order to afford more meals," said Carvalho.