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Kalihi food pantry provides a lifeline as pandemic funding dries up

The Pantry in Kalihi food carts
Jackie Young
/
HPR
After much trial and error, The Pantry in Kalihi has its online food distribution operations down to assembly-line precision.

The COVID-19 pandemic is well past its peak, but it's not yet over. Many across the state are still having financial difficulties, including money for food. Pandemic funding, both public and private, is drying up.

Today is food pick-up day for Remedios Butac. She likes to shop at The Pantry by the nonprofit group Feeding Hawaiʻi Together in Kalihi — the only free e-commerce food pantry in Hawaiʻi.

Remedios Butac The Pantry in Kalihi
Jackie Young
/
HPR
70-year-old Remedios Butac has been coming to The Pantry for about a year-and-a-half from Salt Lake.

The Pantry is also the only year-round food distribution site in the islands where clients can choose what food they receive online, allowing them more freedom and dignity.

“Everything is good over here. And when I order, I can plan what I can cook — what’s the menu I can make for the next week," Butac said.

What kind of food do you get?

“Mostly canned food that I can make a menu for myself. Like, for example, tuna — I make a sandwich, and then I make tuna casserole.”

On a good day, The Pantry will also stock fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, and even pet food, hygiene products, and backpacks for its clients.

Butac is a 70-year-old retired nursing home cook, on a fixed income, and disabled. She has three grown children, but lives alone in order to be independent.

The Pantry kalihi
Jackie Young
/
HPR
The Pantry’s 13,000-square-foot warehouse. Although it looks like a lot, the entire warehouse will only last them two weeks, if not replenished.

She has had 14 surgeries, and chemotherapy for several types of cancer. Butac doesn’t own a car. She had to borrow a family member’s car to get here from Salt Lake.

“My retirement is only how much — $1,200. I pay my rent, I pay my utilities, pay for everything — by that time, everything is done, I only get about $200 left.”

Executive Director Jennine Sullivan shows off The Pantry’s
Jackie Young
/
HPR
Executive Director Jennine Sullivan shows off The Pantry’s stock of food.

Coming to The Pantry every week for the past year-and-a-half helps Butac meet her expenses.

“Budget-wise, I can save money, because I don’t have to go often to the grocery store. I only go there when my neighbor or somebody can take me to the store and buy something that I need.”

Butac is only one example of what The Pantry Executive Director Jennine Sullivan sees as a shift from a need for emergency food at the height of the pandemic, to a continuous need.

And so it’s not emergency food, it’s ongoing food? “This is lifeline support.”

In part two and three, HPR's Jackie Young digs deeper into which demographic groups in Hawaiʻi remain food insecure, and the challenges nonprofits face in trying to address that need.

Jackie Young is the local host of Weekend Edition.
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