How JustServe volunteers fed thousands in Hawaii and showed ‘the Lord loves His people’


Early on the Saturday morning before Christmas 2021, a line of cars stretched out from the Waiʻanae Mall onto the road. Around 200 volunteers distributed food to 2,000 households for a drive-thru holiday community food distribution event.

But the story of how all those volunteers got there that day shows the power of coordination and communication — and their willingness to step up and help with only a few days to spare.

In October 2021, Leinaala Kanana, a staff member from the Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, called Valerie-Mae and Brian Mānoa to get the upcoming December food distribution on their radar. The Mānoas had just been called to serve as JustServe specialists for the Hawaii Honolulu and Hawaii Oahu/Outisland Areas. JustServe.org is a website that connects community organizations with volunteers for service projects.

The Mānoas soon became quite busy training other stake JustServe specialists, coordinating their #LightTheWorld calendar, Honolulu Giving Machine staffing and other events. Then on Dec. 13, five days before the food distribution event, while Valerie Mānoa was outside the Giving Machine, she got a call from her state representative, who knew Mānoa was involved in JustServe.

“She said, ‘Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center does not have enough volunteers for this Saturday’s food distribution.’ And I thought, ‘I dropped the ball,’” said Mānoa. But as Mānoa sat there in the parking lot, she was inspired to make one call first: Elder Voi R. Taeoalii, who is an Area Seventy in Hawaii.

He immediately gave her email addresses for for Honolulu Hawaii Mission President Robert Benson Walker, Makakilo Stake President Mark Piena, Waipahu Stake President Sean Mullaney and Mililani Stake President Isileli M. Nau. They in turn worked quickly to contact full-time and service missionaries and JustServe specialists. “They were all told to get messages out to ward members,” said Mānoa.

Then everything started to flow: “I sent out a Google spreadsheet to everybody whom I initially contacted, and then they sent it to their contacts. And I just watched throughout the day how that document started to load up with names,” she said. 

Soon they had 50 slots taken. People who wanted to sign up couldn’t get a time. And all came together in five days. On that Saturday, Dec. 18, there were enough volunteers to help hand out food to all those in need.

“That’s a story of how the Lord loves his people, because I dropped the ball and was gently reminded,” said Mānoa. 

Elder Voi R. Taeoalii, Area Seventy, distributes food at a holiday drive-through event in Wai'anae, Hawaii, Dec. 18, 2021.
Elder Voi R. Taeoalii, Area Seventy, distributes food at a holiday drive-through event in Wai’anae, Hawaii, Dec. 18, 2021. Credit: Valerie Manoa

One Waiʻanae 1st Ward couple received food early in the morning, and returned in the afternoon as they had signed up to volunteer to hand out food to others. Mililani Hawaiʻi Stake President Isileli M. Nau spoke of a woman and how much that day meant to them, because her husband was going into chemotherapy the next day.

Mānoa got an email from Kanana, the staff member at the center who had first contacted her in October, expressing her gratitude. It said, “Hi! Merry Christmas! Thanks again for pulling those volunteers. The comments [from the other staff were] and I quote, ʻYour church came in clutch today.’ ‘The church was a lifesaver.’ Thank you so much.”

Since that day, Church members in the area have participated in more JustServe projects around their communities. Mānoa made a goal to go to a service project every Saturday in February. She and her husband Brian have been training more stake and ward JustServe specialists, and speaking with more organizations about how to use JustServe.org.

“There are people out there that think that we as Latter-day Saints only minister to our own people,” she said. “And that has given me the drive to go out and talk to community members so that they know who we are, that our scope of service is larger than just within the walls of our home and the chapel.”

Micah Kanana, Leinaala Kanana and Emma Kanana help at the Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center holiday community food distribution event, Dec. 18, 2021 in Waiʻanae, Hawaii.
Micah Kanana, Leinaala Kanana and Emma Kanana help at the Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center holiday community food distribution event, Dec. 18, 2021 in Waiʻanae, Hawaii. Credit: Leinaala Kanana