O‘ahu’s Largest Food Pantry in Danger of Closing

Nov 23, 2016

Diana Lorenz
Credit Jackie Young

Oʻahu’s largest food pantry is being forced out of its current location. Feeding Hawaiʻi Together serves as a lifeline for about 2-thousand needy people each week—providing food and household goods.  But right now, the nonprofit is in trouble.  HPR contributing reporter Jackie Young has more on the challenges facing Feeding Hawaiʻi Together.

Diana Lorenz, and her husband, Charlie, are getting desperate. “Right now it’s right down to the wire. What we have faced is that we looked at about 30 to 35 buildings.  ‘Course some aren’t workable because they’re not by a busline or they’re second-floor—we really need a ground-floor—and the biggest obstacle is the cost.”

The Lorenzes have been running the charitable organization in the Kakaʻako area for about 20 years.  This summer, they were told the pantry had to move out in December because their building was being sold, so they’ve been searching for a new location. 

The Feeding Hawaiʻi Together pantry is unique because it allows low-income people the dignity and freedom of choice to pick the food they want, in a grocery store-style set-up.  It also provides fresh produce, as well as household goods.

About 90% of its clients are actually working families or seniors or the disabled who are struggling to make ends meet.  If the pantry closes, it may push some people into danger.  Lorenz says “We’re concerned about them because they could become homeless.  You know, I pay just a little of my rent so I can buy food—sooner or later that’ll put ‘em in debt, and then they’ll be evicted.  So we are preventing homelessness.”

Mary & Dana Staggs
Credit Jackie Young

Mary Staggs is a caregiver to her elderly mom in Kapahulu.  She’s disabled, and has 3 children.  She’s been coming to the pantry for about 12 years.  She says she’ll miss the savings she gets by going to the pantry if it closes.  “Everybody knows the cost of living in Hawaiʻi is tremendous.  I would have to say that I spend for my family of 5, at least $800 a month for food.”

Dene DeCambra is a working mother from Kaneʻohe, with 4 mouths to feed—including a son with special needs.  She’s been coming to the pantry for at least 10 years.  “… Walking away every week with $150- to $200-dollars’ worth of groceries that are fresh … it’s a large contribution for my household … There’s no other pantry like this.”  What will DeCambra do if the pantry closes?  “I know that it’s going to be devastating because I’ve relied on it for many, many years.”

One idea floated to the Lorenzes to prevent the pantry’s closure is a sort of charitable pooling of resources. “Maybe corporations could network together and contribute monthly and we would definitely give them a gold or silver or platinum certificate for their giving.”

For DeCambra, especially around the holidays, the need is critical:  “It’s impossible to know that there’s not a warehouse out there that’s willing to help thousands and thousands of people, and making a difference, and this place has made an enormous amount of difference.”

If you know of a location or would like to help, go to feedinghawaiitogether.org.