HONOLULU (KITV4) - Honolulu wood carving artist Fred Burkle found himself destitute when COVID-19 hit and tourism dried up.
That's when he found The Pantry, Hawaii's only free online food distribution service.
"This really bailed me out. It really saved me," he said. "Tourism is where I make the bulk of my money so when that went south you know rents were due and food was pretty much non-existent so thank God for this place."
He said he's now paying it forward, volunteering at The Pantry's largest Thanksgiving distribution.
"I got to sing for my supper," Burkle said.
Volunteers were busy today filling online orders for needy families. The Pantry expects to distribute close to 30,000 pounds of food this Thanksgiving week. That's double the amount before the pandemic.
Even as the economy rebounds and COVID cases decline, executive director Jennine Sullivan said many residents still can't make ends meet.
"Some people are still looking for jobs. The economy, while it's recovering, it's still in dire shape, especially in Hawaii with Hawaii's high cost of living," she said. "It's been really difficult for a lot of our families to put food on the table, especially during this holiday season."
She said the nonprofit's spent more than $100,000 on food this year. And operates in large part with the help of volunteers.
Once a family chooses the food they need online, volunteers shop in the Kalihi warehouse and get orders ready for drive-through pickup.
Kendra Pratt of Nuuanu said her family of five couldn't survive without The Pantry.
"None of us are working so the food really helped," she said. "I'm just so thankful we're able to come and get food. We wouldn't be able afford to buy food in the grocery stores, it's just too expensive."
Right now 13,000 individuals sign up for food every month -- or about 4,000 families. That equates to 300,000 pounds of food each month.
"We are thankful for this because this is a hard time," said Kalihi resident Efson Freddy.
"This is a great day because you know we want to be ready for the holiday season."
Sullivan's unsure when the need for food will subside. But for now, she's hoping to fill as many pantries as she can this holiday season.