How one nonprofit has been supporting communities from its Kaka‘ako location since 1993.
Text by Christa Hester | Images by John Hook
When you run an organization that gives everything away for free, you can’t afford to be greedy. That’s what makes Charlie Lorenz, executive director of Feeding Hawaii Together, so good at his job—or rather, his calling.
Since opening its doors in Kaka‘ako in 1993, long before the area became a creative hub, Lorenz’s nonprofit has supported low-income individuals and families by providing food, clothing, furniture, and other items. “We gave away over three million pounds of food last year,” Lorenz says. The nonprofit gets the majority of its food from Hawaii Foodbank and stores that donate mispackaged, dented, or mislabeled food that can no longer be sold on the market but that is still perfectly safe to consume. “Most of that food would have gone into landfills,” Lorenz says. “So we’re feeding the hungry and also reducing waste.”
Three days a week, clients wait their turn to shop, selecting what they need from a produce section with fresh and packaged food and a household section with furniture, clothes, books, and more. “When we first opened, we thought our clients were mainly going to be homeless,” Lorenz says. “We were surprised when we found out who was actually coming.” Only 10 percent of the nonprofit’s shoppers are houseless; the rest are mostly low-income families, individuals, and senior citizens.
“There are lots of senior citizens in this area who come, and we even have five women that carpool from Wai‘anae,” Lorenz says. “They come from all over. They’re scared to be homeless, so they pay their rent, then buy some of their medication because they can’t afford it all, and lastly, they go buy food.” Many clients only have enough money and food stamps for three weeks out of the month, which means that some weeks can end up being really bad. “Like cat and dog food bad,” Lorenz says. But by turning to Feeding Hawaii Together, such difficult weeks can be avoided.
Most food pantries hand out prepared boxes of food, but because Feeding Hawaii Together has enough space, they created a grocery store. “People may have diabetes or different dietary needs or likes,” Lorenz says. “So if they can shop once a week and pick out what they want, there’s less waste because they’re actually getting things they’ll eat.”
As Lorenz walks around the nonprofit’s facilities, he stops at every turn to say hello to a fellow volunteer; ask how someone’s family is doing; or receive a small gift from one of the kids. After years of running the organization, he’s realized that fulfilling this community’s need also means spending time with its people.
With the nonprofit’s support, many clients make better lives for themselves. “We had a family that shopped here, then started volunteering,” Lorenz recalls. “One day they tell me, ‘We have bad news. We got jobs, so we can’t volunteer anymore.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s great! That’s what this is all about!’ This story just repeats itself so many times. That family now has a cleaning business, and they’re just loving it, making lots of money, and contributing back.”
Feeding Hawaii Together is located at 615 Keawe St. and is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Learn how you can get involved at feedinghawaiitogether.org.