Relief for West Hawaii’s homeless population has long been at hand in the form of hot meals, clothing and shelter. But that kindness has taken on a new dimension, with a Kailua-Kona food ministry and the island’s Humane Society offering free nourishment to the four-footed companions of the less fortunate.
Debra Robyn, who can be seen pushing her belongings around the streets of Kailua-Kona in a cart, has three mouths to feed — her own and those of two dogs who don’t leave her side.
“They give me six bags of dog food. My babies get good food. They healthy, they clean,” she said, sitting in the shade of a covered area at The Friendly Place and lifting her mixed-breed Angel onto her lap.
The West Hawaii Emergency Shelter facility, run by Hope Services Hawaii off Pawai Place hosts the Mokuaikaua Church Food Pantry Ministry each Wednesday from 9 to 10 a.m. The pantry gives away a hot breakfast, bag lunch, clothing, bottled water, toiletries and — as of June — pet food.
“Everyone takes the dog food,” pantry director Mary Hoffman said Wednesday. “The fact that they have food to give to the dog means they aren’t giving their own food to the dogs.”
Robyn has been in Kailua-Kona for about a year now. From Waianae, she came here after her husband died of leukemia three years ago. She tried living with her daughter, but things didn’t work out. She’s been on the streets but is in line to get into emergency housing through Hope Services later this week.
Angel was her husband’s service animal, and Robyn has known her since she was five days old. With some coaxing from her owner, the dog bared all of her teeth in a wide, goofy grin, to the delight of a dozen transients having breakfast at a series of picnic tables.
“There’s a lot of good people come help me with my dogs,” said Robyn, who has cancer in her spine.
The Hawaii Island Humane Society and Paws University, which offers boarding, day care and training for pets in Kalaoa, work together to collect the donated pet food and deliver it to the pantry.
“We’re trying to branch out to all parts of the island,” said the society’s director Donna Whitaker. “The need is as pressing in Hilo and Ocean View as it is in Kona.”
The Humane Society also offers free spay and neuter services for pets of the homeless, and transportation for those who can’t make it to the clinic on their own. If you are having trouble making ends meet, the last thing you need is a litter of puppies, Whitaker said.
The pets end up filling an emotional need.
A woman wanting to be identified only as Natty said the pressures of poverty were pitting her chihuahua’s needs against her own.
“Thank God for this,” she said. “It got to where I wasn’t able to save for my toiletries. Now I can. … It’s expensive but I need my dog. It makes me a better person.”
The number of unemployed has been declining steadily on the island. Despite these statistics, demands on the food pantry have only increased, Hoffman said. During four one-hour Wednesday sessions in June, the pantry served a total of 1,278 people. That was up from around 900 in March.
“The need is growing,” she said. “We’re getting more families. Things are not better yet.”
The ministry accepts a wide variety of donations, including toiletries, slippers, shoes, handbags and money. Those interested in contributing should contact the church.
“They really help people here,” Natty said. “It’s huge. I had a mama move in next to me last week with a baby. She didn’t know about this place. Now, she’ll be coming next week.”