Volunteering To Live Up To Our Name

I wanted to say a big mahalo to hundreds of people who deserve big kudos for helping us pull off another successful statewide food drive. But, in digging for a little extra information for this column, I found out something that shocked me: When it comes to volunteering, we are national laggards.

That’s right. We rank 49th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in the percentage of residents volunteering. We’re third from the bottom!

(Hey, don’t be irritated with me – I’m just the messenger.)

The numbers come from a federal agency charged with keeping track of such things, the Corporation for National and Community Service, or CNCS. Here’s how the numbers stack up:

All across this great country of ours, 26.8 percent of residents are doing their bit for their communities and their causes.

Our volunteer rate in Hawaii is 21 percent. And look at the graph. Red line for U.S., blue line for Hawaii. We’re actually trending downward. Aren’t you surprised?

Now, I can think of a few reasons why this would be true. First is the number of people in our state working more than one job to make ends meet. Also, our cost of living is higher than most of the country, and the shaky economy of the last five

years has exacerbated the problem. Who has time for volunteering?

In reflecting on the cold reality of the numbers, I realized we at the Hawaii Foodbank have been experiencing this trend firsthand. It’s always a challenge to find volunteers, and it’s been getting harder every year.

The good news is the volunteers we do have are absolutely astonishing. In pulling off something as big and complicated as a statewide food drive, you need enough willing hands to make it work. I was once again blown away by the dedication of our volunteers.

On food drive day, volunteers flooded the drop-off sites, drumming up enthusiasm throughout the entire state.

And they did everything. They passed out water and provided snacks. They carried big bags of rice and heavy boxes of canned goods. They organized and packed up the food and pulled and pushed loaded pallets to waiting trucks.

Volunteers stood and walked and danced for hours on aching feet, in the scorching sun to collect money for the cause with their little fishnets. And they were so, so happy when you responded.

After seeing the numbers from the CNCS, I am humbled and grateful to all of you who gave up your time to contribute to the betterment of our community.

Some people get a lot of credit – TV folks, radio personalities, the big sponsors, the government and industry coalitions – and they deserve it. They provide such a valuable service and there is no way any charity could operate without them.

But you know what? The people who make them look good, who provide the foundation for success, are the volunteers.

You, the volunteers, are the do-gooders. You’re the stalwarts of your communities and the leaders in your neighborhoods. You are churches and clubs, schools and service organizations. You are families and individuals who just want to lend a hand and give back.

You provide the energy that fuels our success. You are angels, and we need angels.

If you already volunteer, good for you, and thank you.

If you are thinking about it, do it!

And if this is the first time it’s entered your mind, maybe it’s time to do something outside your comfort zone. A couple of websites that can point you to ways you can help: hawaiifood-bank.org, and Get Connected Hawaii, which is run by Aloha United Way (volunteerhawaii.org).

I can tell you this from the heart: Whatever you give, you get back tenfold.

Let’s reverse the downward trend. We are, after all, the Aloha State.