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Pandemic relief is gone, but persistent hunger and food insecurity remain

A typical food box of fresh fruit, vegetables, and eggs palama settlement groceries
Jackie Young
/
HPR
A typical food box of fresh fruit, vegetables, and eggs given out weekly at Pālama Settlement. Clients qualify only every four weeks for these boxes.

As the pandemic slows, state lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session are likely to find emergency relief is no longer an issue. However, persistent hunger and food insecurity are — at least according to nonprofits that assist those in need.

Lani Davis, community services specialist at Palama Settlement in Kalihi, has a small emergency food pantry of canned goods to draw upon if someone tells her they need food right away.

LaniDavisSamAiona Palama Settlement
Jackie Young
/
HPR
(Left to right) Lani Davis, community services specialist, and Sam Aiona, executive director, show off Palama Settlement’s small emergency food pantry of canned goods.

Other than that, clients there can pick up only one prepackaged food box — typically containing fresh fruit, vegetables, and a box of eggs — every four weeks. And the nonprofit only has enough funding to give out 25 boxes once a week.

Executive Director Sam Aiona said although some food is donated to the nonprofit, much of it they have to buy.

“The funding limits the amount that we can give. With the donations, or the food that’s given, and the ones we pay for — $60,000 to $70,000 a year on our food distribution program," Aiona said.

During the height of the pandemic, Palama Settlement was giving out food boxes daily, but now that government funding is gone — yet the need remains.

Palama Settlement 010623
Jackie Young
/
HPR
126-year-old Palama Settlement on average serves 900 children, over 1,000 families, and 400 seniors annually.

Davis said she gets about 15 to 20 emergency requests a month, and there are up to 100 people a month who couldn’t get a food box, who are waitlisted.

“And every Wednesday and Thursday, we serve 120 meals to the kids who are here on our campus. Is that a need? Yes," Aiona said.

“For our participants that are here, it has nothing to do with the pandemic. During the pandemic they were hungry, and today they’re still hungry. And it has more to do with their socio-economic situation.”

Aiona said those who access Palama’s emergency food pantry are either homeless or on the verge of homelessness.

At The Pantry in Kalihi, Executive Director Jennine Sullivan said although food insecurity needs to be addressed structurally by both society and the government, there are things that can be done.

Executive Director Jennine Sullivan in front of The Pantry
Jackie Young
/
HPR
Executive Director Jennine Sullivan in front of The Pantry on Rose Street in Kalihi.

“We’re always looking for help — and whether that be volunteers if you have extra time on your hands or maybe you know of a friend," Sullivan told HPR. "If you’d like to make a donation, we’d welcome any and all donations.

If you are an Amazon shopper, Sullivan suggested utilizing Amazon to make a small contribution at no cost to the customer.

"So just make sure you shop at smile.amazon.com and select Feeding Hawaiʻi Together as your partner of choice," she said.

This is part three of a three-part series about food insecurity from HPR's Jackie Young. Take a look back at parts one and two.

Jackie Young is the local host of Weekend Edition.
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