Photo Credit: Rayen Watanabe By: Carolyn Hyman
“Hello Sunshine,” Mina said with a smile. The woman she greeted, pulled a small cart and wore a wide-brimmed hat, flowered shirt and sneakers. She was collecting food at The Pantry and smiled widely in return. was one of several dozen volunteers present for the Friday food distribution - a well-organized exercise. Food insecurity in Hawaii is high, and recent inflation hasn’t helped. According to the agency’s estimates, one in five households struggles with hunger. The line was wrapped around the building.
The Pantry by Feeding Hawaii Together, is the only e-commerce food pantry operating in the state operating weekly. The organization works to meet the incredible demand for food and is one of Aloha United Way’s nonprofit partners and 211 Helpline referral resources. The Pantry offers individuals a different experience by allowing clients to choose the food they want and need by “shopping” online in advance of their weekly appointment. This minimizes waste and adds to efficiency.
Jennine Sullivan, Executive Director of The Pantry, shared that a typical week means serving between 950 and 1,100 families. “Anyone is eligible as long as their income doesn’t exceed 185% of the federal poverty line,” said Sullivan. For a family of four, that means an income at or below $59,052 in 2022. For a single individual, it means making at or below $28,916. The Pantry serves walk-up appointments first, available to all clients who have placed an order online. Milk crate stations were set-up in the parking lot and volunteers ran order numbers into the warehouse with white boards. Other volunteers carefully collected numbers from those who lined up to collect their food. Juice, frozen vegetables, bread, meat, and fresh produce as well as pet food and other household supplies were distributed.
“We need a lot of volunteers as you can see. We have volunteer opportunities to pack the orders during the week and on Wednesday and Friday we need volunteers to distribute the custom-packed boxes,” said Sullivan. The organization operates so lean that one volunteer was saving small boxes, “these are gold, don’t throw these out. We pay for garbage and need small boxes like this.” One cluster of volunteers seemed to work smoothly and directed others with authority. “We’re the dream team!” the group chimed in unison. “We’ve been doing this a while and got involved because of our church,” said Sister Taylor, a volunteer writing numbers for those picking up larger orders in vehicles. Volunteers can register in advance on the organization’s website: https://thepantry.org/volunteer/. Registering in advance is best for planning and efficiency.
The food on the shelves disappeared as the hours passed. Soon, the people holding hand carts were replaced by families lining up in vehicles. “You need to place your order in advance,” explained a volunteer to one confused driver who pulled up in the line. Depending on the day that the online order is placed, pick-up is scheduled. “We need everything,” said Sullivan. In response to being asked what items most in demand are, she shook her head and pointed to the long line. She later elaborated that fresh produce is something that is always in high demand, but they need a lot. Some of the food donations come from Aloha Harvest, Hawaii Foodbank, even local grocery stores, but the vast majority is purchased. “We can’t meet the demand through donated food alone, so we also purchase items on a regular basis,” said Sullivan.
If you would like to support The Pantry or become involved as a volunteer, visit their website. We are proud to include this resource in the AUW 211 Helpline and to partner with them as a local nonprofit agency.