The town of Honoka‘a has just over 2,000 people. The hongwanji has been giving out drive-through meals at 4 p.m. every Friday. But by 3.30p.m., there is a line that is at least two blocks long.
When the meals first started, they were feeding 150 people. But within three to four weeks, that number has grown to 400. They are feeding families of all kinds, kupuna and people who are passing food on to other people in need.
A school nurse in a public school lost her job 10 weeks ago and applied for unemployment insurance almost immediately. She is still waiting — and growing increasingly desperate.
A small business owner had to close her shop and found work at a big chain store. She is now making about half of what she used to earn. She is a single mom, and $1,600 a month does not allow her to cover her basic expenses.
She did get her stimulus check and $1,000 from the Small Business Administration program, but no Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) help yet. She cannot manage two rent payments — for her shop and her home. So, she is forced to give up her shop. Meanwhile, her just-turned-teen daughter is home almost all the time by herself.
In Ka‘u, food is brought in by people who care in the community — and it is all gone in under an hour. Many people don’t have transportation and can’t even make it to the food distribution services. Some good neighbors try to deliver to those who cannot come themselves.
Some services require everyone to be in a car when they come to take delivery of food. So, a family might live just across the street from the food distribution service, but they are turned away because they do not come to collect their food in a car. It is also difficult for many to get to the less expensive big stores where they can use their food stamps to buy affordable fresh fruit and vegetables.
As people struggle mightily to make it from one day to the next in small, low-income communities across Hawaii Island, there is real desperation in the air. I know of two people who have died from overdoses, and five who have relapsed. Who knows how many more such cases there are?
This is the level of community pain that leaves me deeply disappointed by the action — or inaction — of our elected state leaders. I have to ask Senate President Ron Kouchi, Ways and Means chair Donovan Dela Cruz, House Speaker Scott Saiki and Finance Chair Sylvia Luke: What are you thinking?
And apparently they need more time to think: They have pushed back their return from recess to June 22.
To put nearly $1.4 billion in federal aid into the rainy day fund when people are in such dire need is not just callous — it is a failure of leadership. The people of Hawaii Island want to see their elected leaders serve the people. They were not elected to engage in a political tug-of-war amongst themselves.
There is no time to waste. We have lost too many lives nationwide already in this COVID19 nightmare through political inaction in D.C. Let’s not repeat that failure here in Hawaii. Our leaders have it in their power to save lives by releasing the federal aid now. We should expect them to do so.
Meanwhile, voters are watching and waiting. We start casting our votes beginning July 21 for the Aug. 8 primary. If you have not done so already, make sure you will receive your ballot in the mail by checking your voter registration at https://olvr.hawaii.gov. And spread the word. It’s all vote-by-mail for the first time this year in Hawaii.
Zahava Zaidoff is a certified substance abuse counselor and certified prevention specialist. She lives in Captain Cook.