Food shortage concerns voiced

HONOLULU — Hawai‘i Foodbank is voicing concerns about food panic buying in response to emergency planning for COVID-19, especially with the Wednesday announcement by Centers For Disease Control and Prevention that the virus will likely start spreading in the United States and the state Department of Health advisory to start stockpiling supplies.

Food banks in Asia have decided to remain open to continue serving those in need, but are currently experiencing setbacks. Not only are there drops in volunteers, but the flow of food donations has dwindled because people are stockpiling it for themselves. In some areas, total food donation volume is down by 50%.

“Panic buying is a real concern, but thankfully we have not seen it here yet,” said Hawai‘i Foodbank President and CEO Ron Mizutani. “We receive donated items from local retailers, grocers and farmers that are not sold or nearing expiration, but if products start flying off shelves, the potential hit on the amount of food donations we receive could be devastating.” To discourage stockpiling, some retail outlets in Asia have placed limits on the purchase of high-demand items like rice. In Hawai‘i, consumers have wiped out the state’s supply of N95 masks.

“We can’t stop people from panic buying, but we ask people to please think of those in need when shopping because every day is a crisis for many families,” said Mizutani. “Most people will donate if their families have enough, but when people start hoarding out of fear, donations are the last thing on their minds.” Mizutani says he and his staff are determined to fulfill their mission and ensure no one in Hawai‘i goes hungry. “Seeing empty supermarket shelves can be extremely stressful for our vulnerable communities because they’re already financially struggling,” added Mizutani. “Food should be the last thing anybody worries about.”

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