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Volunteering By the Numbers

Crystine Ito

Crystine Ito

How a Day of Incredible Numbers Added Up to One Life-Changing Experience

Throughout the year, Hawaii Foodbank holds quarterly meetings for Alaka‘i, its passionate group of young leaders. I always look forward to these meetings because it’s a chance to see everyone in-person, discuss mission opportunities, organize plans for upcoming events and talk story.

Of course, COVID-19 changed all of that. As the pandemic began to unfold, these meetings shifted to virtual, but they were still a valuable opportunity to hear directly from Hawaii Foodbank staff members and receive updates on how the pandemic continued to impact our community’s food needs. We learned about their newly established Pop-up Food Distributions — a series of mass drive-through food distributions designed to serve those impacted by the pandemic.

We may have been meeting virtually, but the staff’s raw emotions were palpable as they described each event.

From working with the City and County of Honolulu and other organizations to secure funding, to managing their teams at the warehouse, all the way down to the personal accounts of gratitude from food recipients — each update revealed Hawaii Foodbank’s humble, tireless effort. The hardworking staff described these Pop-ups as “life-changing,” and they highly recommended we take the opportunity to attend if our schedules allowed it. So, not long after, my friend Sheri and I signed up to volunteer at one of the large-scale Pop-ups at Aloha Stadium.

Alaka‘i Member Crystine Ito

Starting shortly after 7 a.m., we worked together in the produce-packing section alongside about forty other volunteers. Similar to picking up food in a cafeteria, we formed a line with each of us holding a produce box that contained two to three reusable bags. We pushed our boxes across six-foot tables as volunteers filled our totes with fresh cabbage, papaya, pineapple, tomatoes and more.

Once our bags were full, we carried our boxes to a loading station where the food was organized for distribution, and then we went back to the start of the line and did it all over again. This happened continuously for more than an hour, and — boy — did we get a great arm and leg workout!

Once most of the bags were packed, we returned to the loading station to distribute the fresh produce to the vehicles in line. Each vehicle was assigned a green placard with a number delineating how many households were represented in that vehicle — letting volunteers know how many bags of produce to provide.

As we watched the cars go by, we realized each vehicle represented much more than the number displayed on its windshield. Within each vehicle, we saw people. We saw families. We saw friends. We saw faces.

When we placed the food in their vehicles, many people greeted us behind their masks with kind eyes and a warm “thank you.” Meanwhile, others timidly avoided eye contact out of humility. We knew that many of these families have never asked for help before, but they needed it now. The only thing we hoped for was that we made everyone feel as comfortable as possible by smiling behind our masks. We wanted them to know there was no shame in receiving food.

"Eight hours and 11,000 steps later, we packed 200,000 pounds of food in 8,000 bags for 4,000 households — incredible numbers that added up to one unforgettable, life-changing experience.”

Eight hours and 11,000 steps later, we packed 200,000 pounds of food in 8,000 bags for 4,000 households — incredible numbers that added up to one unforgettable, life-changing experience. I left the Pop-up full of gratitude and a reinforced belief in Hawaii Foodbank’s mission. I am thankful for the opportunity to volunteer and am proud to be a small part of this beautiful organization.

About the Author

Born and raised on Kaua‘i, Crystine moved to O‘ahu to obtain her bachelor of arts in political science while playing tennis for the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Today, she works as the marketing director of Rainbow Drive-In. Crystine analyzes marketing strategies, manages and implements domestic and international advertising campaigns, and coordinates all public relations. She was instrumental in the development of the new Rainbow Drive-In franchise company.

In addition to marketing, Crystine has a passion for event management, customer service and leadership development — all of which have contributed to her prominent role in Alaka‘i. Her versatility and jovial spirit are a tremendous asset to the group’s success.

Outside of Alaka‘i, Crystine also serves as the president of the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce, and she owns her own social media marketing and consulting company.

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