The Food Basket-Hawaii Island’s Food Bank reported record numbers of people in line for Ohana Food Drops after experiencing a spike in demand at its locations in Volcano, Kailua-Kona and Pahoa the week before Thanksgiving.
“I think the holidays do have something to do with our increase in numbers,” said Kristin Frost Albrecht, executive director of The Food Basket. “But we are also seeing unemployment and (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) money beginning to dwindle, which could be a massive factor.”
The Food Basket had its largest turnout yet during its food drop Thursday in Kailua-Kona, when the nonprofit served 3,951 individuals and 895 families.
According to Frost Albrecht, The Food Basket has given out more than 6 million pounds of food to about 85,000 individuals as of the end of September.
As Thanksgiving nears, the food bank purchased 6,000 turkeys to hand out during the food drops.
“We wanted to buy turkeys and locally grown ground beef to help get people through the holidays,” Frost Albrecht said. “We are serving a lot of folks right now, but we’re happy we have enough to give right now.”
Frost Albrecht has noted that most in line are repeat recipients, which is a trend that has grown as the coronavirus pandemic persists. Though the majority of recipients in April, May and June were first-timers, a large portion of the population has come to depend on The Food Basket.
“Earlier this week, we saw a 22% increase of people in Volcano,” Frost Albrecht said. “We expect usual numbers in Pahoa, because it’s always an enormous drop.”
On Friday, the food bank served about 700-800 people at the Pahoa Community Center, a typical amount at the location.
“This is a pretty normal turn out for Pahoa, but there might be a few new faces,” said Sarah Hamakawa with The Food Basket. “People are beginning to show up earlier and earlier each time.”
The line was backed up down Keaau-Pahoa Road, which caused traffic delays throughout the morning. However, once the line began to move, The Food Basket became an organized, well-oiled machine.
“Sometimes waiting in line feels tedious and gets annoying,” said Fran, a driver who chose not to give her last name. “After you get the food, you remember why it’s worth it.”
After waiting for about an hour, Fran spent time talking with her friend, who goes by the name “Just Tom,” after he stepped out of his car with a pet chicken on his shoulder.
“The only thing I worry about is the massive amounts of carbon these idle cars are emitting,” Just Tom said. “I understand why it needs to be done this way, though, and they’ve done a good job in lessening the impact.”
Fran and Just Tom have come to the food drops throughout the program’s run this year and enjoy bringing home food to their friends and neighbors.
“Every time I wait in line, I come home with food, not only for myself, but enough to share with people who can’t make it every month,” Fran said.
“I like sharing my food, too,” Just Tom said. “I always make sure that I never see myself or anyone else waste it.”
Leann Fujihara has attended the food drops in Pahoa and Hilo since the program’s beginning in April. Although the holidays are coming up, that was not a factor in her decision to wait in line Friday.
“We’ve been doing this for awhile, and it has been so helpful right now,” Fujihara said. “We’ve been grateful for this every time.”
The Food Basket has its December Ohana Food Drop schedule available on its website and is working on its January lineup.
“We have the ability to keep this up through the new year, and we will do so,” Frost Albrecht said. “Our donors have been incredible, and we’re so happy to see the community help.”
The Food Basket asks those interested in donating food for Ohana Food Drops to deliver commercially wrapped and packed food to its locations in Hilo at 40 Holomua St. or Kailua-Kona at 73-4161 Ulu Wini Place.
Email Kelsey Walling at email@example.com.