KILAUEA — Just before the doors were officially opened to the Kauai North Shore Food Pantry on Saturday, Cathy Butler smiled. It was a big smile as she gave a short talk to a crowd gathered on the porch and stairs.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been three years,” she said. “A lot of your faces have been here three years, and I really appreciate it.”
This wasn’t your typical afternoon at the food pantry. It was a celebration that marked its third anniversary. There was a sense of joy, a feeling of aloha, that filled the air, perhaps helped along by sunshine and the free burritos and drinks paid for by an anonymous donor just for this occasion.
Butler, board member and food pantry operations manager, said it was a lovely day for a party and that’s what they intended to have.
“Thank you for supporting us, respecting each other, treating each other with kindness,” she said.
Then, she gave the words everyone was anxious to hear: “Let’s go shopping.”
And shop they did.
There were fresh fruits, including bananas, apples and pineapples. There were fresh vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and avocados. There were dairy products like milk and cheese and yogurt. There were boxes of cereal, bags of chips and cans of soup, chili and pork and beans. And much, much more.
For those in need, waiting their turn to make the rounds, it was a gourmet delight.
And for the volunteers waiting to serve them, it was heart-warming.
“It’s fantastic,” said Debbie Lantz, volunteer and Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay member.
Lantz has been helping for three years.
“I love it. There’s a lot of amazing things that happen behind the scenes that people don’t know about and we give to those in need,” she said. “It feels really good.”
People coming through the food pantry often offer thanks with more than words.
“They show expressions of the heart,” Lantz said.
Butler said the food pantry buys about 2,000 pounds of food each week at the food banks, courtesy of grants and donations, and nearly all of it is given away each Saturday afternoon.
That’s about 100,000 pounds of food that goes out the door of the small building in a year.
About 70 people arrive each Saturday for food that will provide them with meals for a week — meals they otherwise would go without.
The need has increased since day one.
There are young men and young women. Families. Kupuna. Moms and dads and keiki, too. Some are homeless. Many arrive early to get one of the first places in line. Sign-in begins at 2:30 p.m., with the pantry opening at 3:30.
“Everybody is welcome here,” Butler said. “We don’t make any judgment of the way people chose to live.”
Butler estimated the pantry feeds about 600 people a month.
She talked of a family driving from the Westside after the husband lost his job.
“We were able to supply them with food, for which they were very grateful,” Butler said.
Many people aren’t aware how many people rely on the Kilauea food pantry, said Liz Chase, a volunteer who has also received assistance from the food pantry. She has gotten to know some of the clients.
“A lot of people who come through are very grateful this is here,” she said. “It can make a difference, big or small, in someone’s life.”
Jennifer Plunkett, another volunteer, said the food pantry crowd is like ohana to her.
“We get together, share with the community that needs food, but also share that aloha as well,” she said.
The food pantry has assisted her family of five that gets by on her husband’s salary as an educator.
Plunkett said there have been times she’s looked in the cupboards at home, didn’t have a food item she needed, and said a little prayer.
“I cannot tell you how many times it’s available here when I come to shop,” she said.
The Kauai North Shore Food Pantry was formerly the Christ Memorial Church Food Pantry. It’s basically run by the same people, almost all volunteers, with only a part-time grant writer and part-time bookkeeper receiving slight compensation.
Butler, whose husband Bill helps out, too, praised the volunteers. She has more offering to pitch in than she can use.
“They’ve done an amazing job,” she said. “People come and go all the time, but some have stuck with us since day one and it’s wonderful.”
Seeing everyone there on Saturday, and sensing the love, “warms my heart,” Butler said.
The food pantry gives away more than food. It has programs to offer personal care products and cat and dog food. Some days, music plays and keiki laugh and dance.