On a recent Friday morning, Sam and Carolyn Knepper arrived at St. William Church early to get ready for food and clothing distribution.
The pantry opens at 7:45 a.m., but people have been congregating earlier and earlier, and the needs have been growing.
“We’re running about triple of what we were before,” said Sam, the manager of the St. William Food Pantry, which is part of St. Catherine Parish.
Looking at the front room of the church, it’s filled with tables covered in bags and clothes for people in need. As clients come up, they’re asked what they need and given meals, snacks and pantry staples like cereal and milk.
“This week, there’s not going to be any extra,” he said.
To make these efforts work, it’s a week-long effort. On Tuesday, they go to food banks to acquire food.
“I used to be able to go down in my pick-up truck and get food, but that’s not possible anymore,” he said because of the volume of items they need to meet the needs of the community.
The bags contain food and supplemental items that the group packs together on Wednesdays.
“We spend an hour or so making bags depending on how many bags we need,” Sam said. “We’ve been trying to project (how many clients will come in), but our numbers have obviously been going up exponentially.”
Sam has been working with the church’s food pantry for more than a decade, and things have expanded. The Kneppers and volunteers have also established a pantry on Thursday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Hanalei Colony Resort in Ha‘ena and at St. Catherine Parish in Kapa‘a at noon on Saturdays.
“We have limited distribution because social distancing,” Sam explained.
The Diocese of Honolulu, of which St. William is a part, gave the staff some ground rules on how to continue providing for their community safely. In the front lawn of the church, people wait with six feet of separation in line, and inside volunteers wear masks and gloves.
After the flood in 2018, the team organized the mobile food pantry which they take to Ha‘ena and Kapa‘a. The trailer is owned by Hawai‘i Food Bank, but the St. Catherine Parish operates and manages it.
“As part of that operating agreement,” Sam said, “we’ve been able to take it anywhere, which has come in handy now.”
Sam, who is also the coordinator of stewardship for St. Catherine Parish, has been part of the food pantry since the get-go.
“Some of the clients come to take food and some come to receive,” Sam said. “The ones that come to receive food, the food is going to someone.”
Linda Sanders has volunteered with the Kneppers, and nominated them for The Garden Island Newspaper’s Hometown Heroes series. For the past five years, she’s seen firsthand how they work and inspire the community.
“They ask no questions and show respect to all who come,” Sanders said.
This includes those who help out. “My husband and I have helped out on Friday mornings, and they’re very thankful to all who help, too.”
Sanders pointed out that this isn’t solely volunteering, but a passion for the Kneppers. She’s seen Sam dedicate much of his time to the food pantry and Carolyn’s work with clothing, not just handing it out but sewing on buttons, fixing holes and washing them delicately.
“They are examples for the rest of us,” Sanders said.
In the last month during the COVID-19 pandemic with residents out of work indefinitely, Sam said they’ve faced different challenges. One of these issues is the supply chain, he said.
“There’s a big demand for food, as you can see, but we can’t have a food drive with social distance,” he said. “So not only do we depend on people giving money, there’s less people that have money.”
But still, he said, people come out every week to volunteer and share what they can.
“We have a very good community, a lot of good people from all the stations in life,” he said.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.