‘Our own little ohana’

When you walk into the food pantry operated by Christ Memorial Christian Church and the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay, it’s not the food that catches your eye.

It’s the volunteers.

They’re everywhere, setting up tables, lining items up, carrying in more food from the back on a Saturday afternoon, just minutes from the opening of this weekly, free food distribution.

One of those volunteers is Cathy Butler. She’s been helping others for much of her life, from when she was a little girl to growing up and becoming a nurse. Since, she’s volunteered with many organizations, including American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society. When she heard about this North Shore food pantry opening in August, she wanted to be involved.

“I just saw the need here for people who were hungry,” she said.

Butler also volunteers at Hanalei School, where she helps children read.

“Those little kids come in the morning and they haven’t had anything to eat and it breaks my heart,” she said. “That’s really what got me going on this.”

The efforts of Butler and many others have been providing food for around 100 people each week. It operates out of the parish hall across from the church on Kolo Road.

Margaret Furze, food pantry coordinator, called the food pantry a “unique opportunity” to meet the community’s needs. Many residents can’t find work, don’t have medical insurance and struggle to get back.

“Many of the people in Kilauea are either unemployed or underemployed,” Furze said.

Not only is the food pantry meeting a need, it received strong, enthusiastic support. Business, civic groups and individuals have contributed nonperishable food and money. Tom Pickett of the Kilauea Bakery donates baked goods. Farmers have donated produce. Uluwehi Foundation is purchasing a new freezer and refrigerator for it.

“Everybody is so gracious to help us meet our needs,” she said.

“Recently the most wonderful thing happened at the Christmas tree lighting,” Furze continued. “There were boxes set out, people donated and this is why we have so much today.”

She smiled as she recalled initial discussion of opening the pantry earlier in the year, with a target date of August.

“It seemed like an impossibility and guess what? It happened,” Furze said. “And we’ve grown.”

Before Saturday’s opening, tables were lined up, stocked with canned and boxed, fresh and frozen food. It’s organized. On one table was rice, beans, onion and potatoes. On another, canned beef stew, Spam, tuna fish. Another displayed rows of canned vegetables. Pasta, sauce, cereal, popcorn and peanut butter await across the room. In a way, it’s similar to wandering through a country grocery store.

“We are trying to get more and more healthy stuff,” Furze said. “Our goal is to go greener and greener.”

Volunteers are everywhere, adjusting and setting out free food. Area captains oversee different displays.

“All these people set up their own tables to make them beautiful,” Furze said.

Right before the 3:30 opening, they gather outside the front door for a short prayer with clients waiting on the porch under cover from the rain.

Volunteer Bill Butler knows why he enjoys being part of the food pantry.

“Because I can look up and see the face of Jesus in the people I’m serving,” he said.

For the next hour, it’s orderly as guests filed inside and began filling bags or boxes with food that will keep them from going hungry that week. There is a limit, but it’s plenty for those thrilled to have something to put in their cupboards and refrigerators at home. Volunteers greet them with smiles and hellos. Guests nod and smile back. They appreciate what they are given.

Families and singles, teens and seniors, have received food.

“A lot of the people don’t speak English but they speak with their eyes,” Cathy Butler said. “You can tell they’re grateful.”

When some first came to the food pantry for help, they looked down and avoided eye contact, Butler said. No more. Many volunteers and their guests are on a first name basis. Hellos and welcomes are common.

“Our main goal here is to make them feel welcome,” Butler said. “Everybody needs help at some point in their life.”

Including the food pantry. It operates on a limited budget. Donations come from the church, the rotary club, individuals and groups. Furze shared a story of one man who came in and contributed $20, then $50, and then $50 more.

“Every three months we’ll get $50,” she said. “It’s very exciting.”

Pennies count. That’s why Furze and others purchase food from the Hawaii Independent Food Bank and shop store specials.

“We find the best deals to get the most for this money,” she said.

Marion Paul, Rotary public relations chair, said the food pantry “has become more successful, and more quickly, than we ever imagined.”

The Rotary and Christ Memorial Episcopal Church have become a very good team, she said. During the first two years of operation, the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay will ensure the food pantry rests on a solid financial footing by providing funding, business advice and volunteers.

“It has been so rewarding to see how the entire community has come together to help these families,” Paul said.

Paul said she would like to give a shout out to all the people who may need an extra hand meeting their food needs. It can be embarrassing to admit you need help, she said, “but that is what we are here for.”

“We have become our own little ohana. We see many of the same people every week, and it is wonderful to get to know them. What many people don’t realize is that quite a few people who ‘shop’ at the pantry also come early to volunteer at the pantry. There is a lot of food to move, and we all pitch in to make it work.”

Financial donations are welcome. Checks can be mailed to Christ Memorial Episcopal Church, PO Box 293, Kilauea, HI 96754.

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