Movers & Shakas: Volunteering at The Pantry

Photo Credit: The Pantry (l to r: Kimberly Ward-Barowicz, Grace Collery, Jared Lee, Dario Nanbu, Lance De Peralta – me!)

When people ask me “Where are you from?”, I immediately say Hawai’i!

But to be more precise, I’m from a community in Honolulu called Kalihi.

My parents still own and live in the house I grew up in.  It’s just 10 minutes from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (formerly Honolulu International Airport) and 20 minutes from Waikiki (on a good day).

I left Kalihi at the age of 17 to attend college in the mainland and would eventually settle there.  I make it a point to come home every year around the holidays.  Typically, I’ll split my time between Kalihi and Kapolei which is located on Oahu’s west side and considered by many to be the island’s second city (Honolulu, of course, being the first).  My brother and sister-in-law live in Kapolei.

Then, of course, COVID happened…

Eventually, I returned home last summer, but for personal reasons.  The trip lasted a few weeks where I stayed in Kalihi the whole time.  My neighborhood is mixed-use; in fact, just a short walk from my parents’ house is a warehouse, which has been there for as long as I’ve been alive.  Growing up, I saw many trucks, crates, and people going in/out of the warehouse yet was clueless of its exact purpose…until last summer.

On certain weekdays, I would see a line of cars and people in vests at the warehouse directing traffic.  Eventually, I discovered the warehouse is the home of The Pantry, a food distribution center operated by Feeding Hawai’i Together, a Hawai’i-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  Although they’ve been serving Oahu for 20 years, The Pantry has occupied the space since 2020, right around the time COVID hit.

While I was home, my brother told me about Hawai’i’s remote work program – Movers and Shakas – and encouraged me to apply.  So glad I did!  During the application process, I learned The Pantry was one of 10 Volunteer Partner Organizations (or VPOs) selected to participate in Cohort 2 of the program and collaborate with its 50 Fellows (which I’m one).  I was fortunate to be put on a team to support The Pantry’s growth, scalability, and marketing efforts.  The Pantry is the only weekly ecommerce food distribution in Hawai’i, allowing clients to order online and pickup their custom-packed order, providing fresh, diverse, nutritional food to all who need it.

On January 14th, my team had the opportunity to tour and volunteer at the facility.  It was a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky.  As I said before, it’s just a short walk from my parent’s house, so I made sure to stop by real quick and say “hi!” before the start of our shift.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but by the end of it, I walked away humbled, energized, and motivated from the experience for a couple reasons:

  • First, I’ve been in the healthcare industry for 20 years and I was shocked to learn that almost half of Hawaii residents are experiencing some form of food insecurity.
  • Second, despite being short-handed, The Pantry is a well-run organization with an amazing, fun-loving, and dedicated staff and volunteers led by Executive Director Jennine Sullivan.  Fun little fact: Jennine and I got our undergraduate degrees in Massachusetts – small world!  Jennine went to Babson College and I attended Boston University.

As for my team, here’s what they had to say about The Pantry and volunteering:

Kimberly Ward-Barowicz

“I had the chance to see first-hand the work being done by the staff and volunteers at The Pantry at a recent distribution day.  They are an incredibly dedicated, efficient, welcoming, and compassionate group.  I’m honored to be a part of the contribution they make to the community as a Movers and Shakas Cohort Fellow!”

Grace Collery

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to work closely with The Pantry through Movers & Shakas.  Volunteering made it abundantly clear they are fulfilling a critical need by putting food into the hands of community members.  Their operation is efficient and effective all while creating a welcoming atmosphere for volunteers and the community.”

Dario Nanbu

“Volunteering at The Pantry was not only rewarding in helping fulfill the community’s food security, but also impressive in how it functioned as a well-organized and Aloha-filled operation.  The Pantry is a unique example of ecommerce bringing together a community to make it stronger.”

Jared Lee

“Though seemingly a small non-profit, The Pantry has a large impact and a complex operation.  After viewing firsthand while volunteering, it was easy to see that The Pantry has a dense and well-developed operation that is run by loyal volunteers and led by a committed Executive Director.  It was amazing to experience the good work that they are doing and how they are providing the community it’s most basic needs.  As the food insecurity situation in Hawaii is dire, The Pantry is an innovative company that is at the heart of service and helping the community.  I am proud to work alongside them.”

Movers and Shakas Team – mahalo nui loa for sharing your experiences.

Jennine, your staff & volunteers – mahalo nui loa for the hospitality and making January 14th, 2022 a day I will remember and cherish for a long time.

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