Reimagining Food Pantries in Hawaii

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February 1, 2022
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At most food distribution sites, recipients are presented with a mixed bag of donated items – most of which is canned or preserved, some of which they may not even enjoy eating.

But that’s not the case at The Pantry in Kalihi.

As the only weekly e-commerce food pantry in Hawaii, The Pantry offers their clients a new option: pre-selecting their groceries online from the daily offerings available. It provides an element of selection and control rarely afforded to those in need.

“Our clients are able to pick what they want, when they want it,” said Jennine Sullivan, Executive Director of The Pantry. “We all want to eat and select our next meal and we think that’s an incredibly important component.”

Some of these grocery options occasionally include offerings from Lanakila Kitchen. Prepared meals, like our ulu chowder, enable recipients to easily enjoy healthy and delicious meals without the time-intensive process of cooking. We also provide fresh produce and eggs, which make their way into the daily specials that are given out to every client – and aren’t counted as a part of the ten-item limit per person. For those who cannot always afford these vitamin-packed items from the grocery store, these additions are truly savored. Our partnership with The Pantry has been ongoing since 2020, when we utilized CARES Act funding to send over $200,000 worth of food to the distribution site to further support individuals and households on Oahu.

With dozens of orders picked up every day, the local nonprofit depends on their band of dedicated and hardworking volunteers to pack, prep, and load groceries for clients. With upbeat music echoing from a speaker, no one in the warehouse is still for more than a few minutes. Individuals, student groups, and even families take time out of their week to support the local nonprofit.

We swung by right before the holidays to see everyone in motion.

For eight-year-old Keira, working alongside her mom and older sister was a fun way to help her community while her school was out on Christmas break. She wanted to help out those who didn’t have time off for the holiday the way she did. On her tip toes, pushing a shopping cart twice her size, she did just that – helping collect orders to be brought to recipients.

“It’s cool that they can just pick what they want and we help them to get what they want,” she said.

Her sister, Leila, also joined in the fun, zooming her cart between aisles as she chased down order numbers on the bags spread across the shelves.

“When a lot of people do it [volunteer], it makes everybody else want to do it,” Leila said. “I like helping inspire other kids to do stuff.”

Keira and Leila’s mom, Tehani, was first introduced to The Pantry through her work’s volunteer day. After spending a few sessions lending a hand, she learned that she could bring her young daughters along to see the importance of helping others. It was the perfect way to spend the holiday break.

“I feel like we all can do our part within the community,” Tehani said. “If we can donate our time, then why not? It’s good for them [children] to see what’s going on in the community.”

With the help of their trusty volunteers, The Pantry fights food insecurity while also encouraging food sustainability, all by empowering their clients with the ability to choose the food they eat each week.  

It’s truly a one-of-a-kind system that encourages healthier eating, more thoughtful consumption, and prioritizes not just meeting the needs of a community – but providing ways to encourage long-term growth through sustained nutrition.  

“Everyone deserves access to fresh food and healthy ingredients," said Reid Yasunaga, Director of Food Service at Lanakila Kitchen. “We’re so glad we can contribute to the outstanding work being done at The Pantry to provide quality options for those in need across Oahu.”

Lanakila Kitchen and Lanakila Pacific are pleased to be continued partners with The Pantry, working together to build independence on our island. To learn more about The Pantry, please click here.

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Lanakila Pacific is a Hawaii-based non-profit 501(c)(3) organization offering assistance programs and operating social enterprises to build independence and improve the quality of life for individuals with cognitive, physical, social or age-related challenges.  Since 1939, its vision has been to embody self-sufficiency and inspire inclusive communities where people of all ages and abilities are empowered to live independently, find meaningful employment and thrive in spirit.  The organization collectively serves and benefits more than 2,000 people each year including individuals with disabilities and seniors in our community. 

If you are interested in donating to support Lanakila Pacific’s many programs, services, and social enterprises, click here.