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Focused on Food: Residents adapt to new grocery routines

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Aerial photo of the car line for Kualapu’u Market last Thursday. Photo by Ted Kanemitsu

As Molokai residents struggle to settle into routines of a new normal amid stay at home orders, shopping for food has proven a challenging task for many on the island. With Friendly Market’s continued closure anticipated until April 20, and the other main stores limiting customers to placing orders for curbside pickup, lines for food have been hours long.

Many residents reported attempting to reach Misaki’s two phone order lines hundreds of times. Car lines for shopping at Kualapu’u Market often extended to Molokai High School. Both stores have limited the amount of items each customer can purchase.

The system meant some people weren’t successful in getting groceries from their usual sources.

“We called 167 times yesterday, 586 times so far today. This is just for Misaki’s,” wrote one Facebook user. “Kualapu’u is only open for a few hours a day… this is causing a tremendous line of vehicles. In both cases, people are left behind, not able to buy food. Not acceptable.”

Other residents didn’t mind the wait and were just grateful to get their groceries.

“Yesterday I called around 80 times and didn’t get mad about it,” wrote another social media commenter. “Then my husband stood in line for I don’t know how long. But all of that was worth it to feed my kids…. Rain or shine, [the stores] do our best to help us. Blessed is an understatement… We are so lucky that these stores still operate for us.”

“Mahalo, mahalo everyone working hard at Kualapu’u Market today,” commented another resident last Thursday. “I joined an already long line up at 1:30 p.m. and reached the market door at 4 p.m. I got most of the things on my list and I am very thankful for all those finding the items. The process was very efficient and even waiting in the car was easier and less frustrating than phoning, phoning, phoning since Monday morning.”

Many jumped to defend the stores’ operation choices.

“People have to remember that these stores are trying to help the entire community the best way they see fit,” said another commenter. “We may not all thing it’s the best, but we looking outside in, we don’t know what works best for the business…. These businesses are not only trying their best to serve our community, they are thinking of the best way to also protect their employees that they are responsible for… I wouldn’t want to be in [their] shoes right now trying to figure out al the logistics that was put on their plate within a matter of hours!”

Still others reminded fellow residents there had been time to prepare.

“The truth is, we were told this was coming. We knew it was only a matter of time. We should have been ready,” wrote another community member.

Both Misaki’s and Kualapu’u have been announcing their operating hours daily or weekly on social media, and require masks for service. Misaki’s phone order numbers are 553-5505 and 553-5515 and they will call customers for pickup when the order is complete. Kualapu’u customers are asked to stay in their vehicles, form a line along the cones, hand a written list to attendants and park to wait for their order to be delivered to their car.

Many Molokai families looked for alternatives to the main grocery stores, shopping for essentials at smaller markets that have remained open in Kaunakakai, like Pascua, Mini Mart, Da Hot Spot and Mega Enterprise of Molokai. Rawlins Texaco and Fish N Dive continue to sell food items in addition to gas. East end residents can buy essential groceries at Manae Goods and Grindz, which is also operating on a phone order basis, with their food counter currently closed.

Community members also turned to locally grown and processed sources of food.

Sust’aina ble Molokai is a local nonprofit that runs the weekly Mobile Market to deliver local produce and food products from dozens of Molokai farmers and producers to residents through an online ordering model that’s been operating successfully for four years.

“Due to the current situation with food access, our Mobile Market has seen a dramatic increase in demand—we had almost double our usual volume in the past two weeks,” said Harmonee Williams, Sust’aina ble Molokai executive director. “We served [about] 170 families last week through our market.”

Much of the Mobile Market’s produce sold out within minutes of the ordering period opening.

“Because we utilize online ordering software, we were able to adjust relatively quickly when this crisis hit,” said Williams. “We removed our pop-up farmers market, switched to taking online payments only, and set-up a drive-through pick-up, with specific windows of time for individuals to pick-up. Even though these changes may seem small, they still took quite a bit of effort. So we totally sympathize with those stores who are trying to make a total 180 in their normal procedures and are super grateful for their efforts!”

She encouraged any farmer or backyard grower looking to get their produce out to the community right now, to contact her at 808-560-5410.

Kumu Farms also became a popular stop for locally grown vegetables, while residents turned to the Molokai Livestock Cooperative in Ho’ulehua for meat. Hunters and fishermen distributed their catches among family and friends, some taking to social media to share their surplus with those in need.

The Kahinu ‘ohana responded to the crisis by holding the island’s first bread drive thru last Wednesday at their Kalamaula homestead.

“The drive thru was held to help alleviate the overstock of Love’s Bakery bread since the island’s stores and restaurants have limited access to the public,” said Nani Kahinu. “This is a special circumstance due to the effects of COVID-19, that Love’s Bakery is allowing Mike to push out the overstock, not a regular event.”

She said she’ll post updates to social media platforms and because filling stores will continue to take priority, they’ll only hold a sale if there’s a surplus.

Kahinu said she heard stories of community members that couldn’t get through by phone to place their food orders or couldn’t wait in line for hours because of physical limitations.

“Those are all the stories that played at our heartstrings,” she said. “We wanted to help the community and help the stores alleviate the stress.”

She added that it “shed light” on how hard the stores are working to adapt to the new systems of ordering. In one day, she took about 150 bread orders through social media, which took about 10 hours to process, check inventory, confirm and organize for pickup.

The Kahinus run a diversified business that includes operating vending machines from their homestead, with one also temporarily located at Hotel Molokai.

“Machines are stocked with rice, milk, laundry soap and dryer sheet, Enjoy arare and gummies, Na’ike shoyu and more,” she said. “Canned goods will also be added to the machine inventory soon.”

For Kahinu, the situation has highlighted the importance of local sourcing for food.

“It definitely has brought a full awareness of the vendors we have on Molokai and that we can depend on each other,” she said. “I’m happy to hear how much people are shopping more locally. That’s what we tout, we support local. This is how we survive together. I’m hoping our local farmers and livestock can continue to meet the demand.”

To assist those sourcing food off island, Mokulele Airlines launched a free grocery shipment service last week for the duration of April to deliver food items to Molokai from Maui and Honolulu. Neighbor island family and friends utilized the service to send thousands of pounds of groceries to Molokai ‘ohana. The airline reported moving 20,000 pounds of groceries to Molokai last week. That’s a $20,000 savings for residents, as they normally charge $1 per pound, said Keith Sisson, Mokulele Chief Marketing Officer.

Something for Everybody in Kaunakakai, which is currently closed for their take-out food and locally made gift items, announced they are opening their bulk food ordering to the public.

“We aloha you Molokai and will strive and flex to always be a business and service to meet our community needs no matter what circumstances the world may bring!” the store posted on social media. Residents can email allthingsmolokaiorder@gmail.com to request a link and instructions or call or text 808-658-0509.

Many churches and social services are offering food banks and assistance during this time.

While some local restaurants are temporarily closed, others are still open for take-out options.

For keiki, Molokai High and Kilohana schools continue to offer grab and go breakfast and lunch daily during the week.

Williams said organizations and individuals across Molokai are mobilizing to initiate a food distri-bution program.

“There is an island-wide effort happening to distribute local food to those in need, especially those affected by COVID19,” she said. “The program development and roll-out is still in process, but the over-arching goal is to work with our local farmers, hunters, and fishermen to aggregate fresh, Molokai food—and then work with our local food banks and other community volunteers to distribute that food to those in need.”

More than a dozen local organizations have been participating and holding meetings via Zoom on Mondays at 2:30 p.m. Williams invited those interested in joining the effort to email her at harmonee@sustainablemolokai.org to be part of the calls.

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