Advocates say huge turnout for food distribution underscores scope of need

Updated: May. 1, 2020 at 7:58 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a startling display of the scope of need on Oahu, thousands turned out Thursday to get free food at the first of a series of distribution events aimed at helping laid off workers.

The line of those waiting to get into the event at Waipio Soccer Complex stretched for miles, snarling traffic in the area and spilling onto the Waipahu off-ramp on the H-1 Freeway.

Some people said they’d been waiting in line for more than four hours. By the end of the day, organizers expected to distribute a jaw-dropping 110 tons of food.

[Read more: LIST: Upcoming food distribution sites for those facing financial hardship]

One of those picking up food said all the adults in the house had been laid off and no one had received unemployment benefits yet. Another told HNN, “This is a blessing for everybody.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell helped distribute food to car after car and was visibly moved by the massive turnout of people seeking help. “You see the kind of cars coming through. They’re not busted up cars. These are people who had jobs their entire life, never asked for any type of assistance,” he said.

“Now they don’t have a job. And they need food.”

The Hawaii Foodbank distribution was possible thanks to the city and Hawaii Community Foundation, which ponied up about $2 million to cover the cost of weekly large-scale distribution events.

Ron Mizutani, president and CEO of the food bank, called the turnout Thursday “unprecedented.”

“The first guy in the line ... he was already crying. And on the way out, gave him a fist bump. He said, ‘I want to hug you but I can’t,'” Mizutani said. He added that by the end of May the nonprofit expects to distribute 3 million pounds of food on Oahu. “That’s mind blowing,” he said.

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Members of the Royal Hawaiian Band also helped put food into people’s trunks at the event, including bandmaster Clarke Bright.

“When I see this many cars coming through the line, it just touches my heart,” he said, at the event. “They wouldn’t wait in line for two hours or so if they didn’t need it. And they’re coming from all over the place.”

The massive turnout comes amid growing concern about Hawaii’s stalled economy — and its struggling workers. Some 1 in 3 Hawaii workers have been laid off amid the state shutdown.

And a recent University of Hawaii report found workers who made less than $50,000 a year were disproportionately impacted by the layoffs.

According to the analysis, the deepest layoffs have been at hotels, which have laid off roughly 83% of workers. Scores of hotels have closed entirely amid the state’s stay-at-home order and quarantine for visitors.

Retailers have also been crippled in the shutdown, laying off 76% of workers.

If you need more information on how to get food or how to make donations, visit the Hawaii Foodbank.

This story will be updated.

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