For the Fortunate Foodie: 4 Ways to Give Back on O‘ahu This Holiday Season

These local nonprofits offer multiple ways you can volunteer to help those whose tables aren’t overflowing.


River Of Life Mission Workers Pc River Of Life

Photo courtesy of River of Life Mission


A mid the collective hardships of recent times, perspective is the messenger of gratitude. I’m lucky to spend much of my time around food—mostly delicious food, and a lot of it—which makes me acutely aware of the privilege of my reality. And since abundance has a way of shining light on the other side of the fence, and I know that many Frolic readers feel the same way, I’ve put together a short list of how you can volunteer in our community food support systems. Whether you’re looking for something hands-on or prefer to pitch in from home, there are many ways to channel your gratitude into helping those less fortunate—both in this season of giving and beyond.


River of Life Mission



River of Life Mission was founded in 1987 as a Christian faith-based emergency meal service for the homeless population in Chinatown and Honolulu proper. The mission serves over 700 hot meals per day—breakfast, lunch and dinner. During COVID, operations have changed to protect volunteers and guests, so that hot meals are packed on-site and distributed outdoors.


At River of Life, volunteering feels like being part of a well-oiled family machine. Shifts usually run three hours and coincide with meal times; additional times and opportunities open up closer to Christmas. The food service staff is incredibly warm, appreciative and skilled. Here you can help with everything from preparing food to packing plates. Coming up soon will be opportunities with River of Life’s chocolate-making fundraising arm, Chocolate on a Mission.


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Mom and me before our shift at River of Life on Thanksgiving Day. Photo: Maria Burke


To volunteer, head to River of Life’s website or email Denise at


101 N Pauahi St., (808) 524-7656,, @riveroflifehawaii



Aloha Harvest



Aloha Harvest specializes in food rescue and redistribution, collecting quality, excess food from 300 participating donors and getting it to more than 200 charities that feed the hungry. Started in 1999 by Hauʻoli Mau Loa, Aloha Harvest is modeled after City Harvest in New York, a successful and heavily replicated food recovery system.


Whether you have skills in social media, copy editing or harvesting crops, you can help! The volunteer platform is comprehensive and it’s relatively easy to find opportunities that fit different skill sets and schedules. There are also plenty of openings for less laborious or skilled efforts. I recently signed up to help harvest over 200 pounds of starfruit, pomelo and avocado from a residence in Kāne‘ohe for redistribution to food-insecure students at Windward Community College and beyond. That’s a key feature of Aloha Harvest—it can get to the food if the food can’t get to them. (If you know someone with a fruit tree that needs picking, or has other excess food to donate, give them a call.)


To volunteer, click the link below and choose “Get Involved.”


3599 Wai‘alae Ave. # 23, (808) 537-6945,, @alohaharvest



Lanakila Meals on Wheels



Lanakila Meals on Wheels’ mission is to improve the quality of life and self-sufficiency of people with physical, cognitive, social or age-related challenges. It was founded in 1939 by special education teacher Violet Kam to help those recuperating from tuberculosis—and continues to be a formidable force of social support for the local community.


Today this nonprofit does far more than deliver meals to the elderly. Lanakila Kitchen, its food service branch, employs people with disabilities who prepare catering orders and retail food items ranging from bentos to baked goods. Its new apple butter mochi, a special collaboration with Alan Wong, will be sold at local stores this holiday season. If you want to help the effort, morning shifts are available for meal packers and delivery drivers at Lanakila Meals on Wheels. Click the link below to find out more.


1809 Bachelot St., (808) 356-8519,, @lanakilapacific



Hawai‘i Food Bank



Practically everyone on O‘ahu has volunteered at the Hawai‘i Food Bank at least once, right? It’s one of the largest food support organizations in the state, founded on the idea that all of Hawai‘i is one big ‘ohana. The Hawai‘i Food Bank feeds the hungry, who according to its website number about a quarter million people statewide. It receives food from food manufacturers and growers, food retailers, Feeding America, individual and corporate food drives, and federal food commodities. Volunteer efforts center around daily food inspection of the thousands of pounds of food that pass through the doors of its 23,668 square-foot warehouse in Mapunapuna. This is another well-oiled machine: Besides volunteering as an individual, there are (team-building) opportunities for a group from a company or organization to volunteer together—more hands make light work!


2611 Kilihau St., (808) 836-3600,, @hawaiifoodbank


Of course, you can also donate money to any of these organizations. But for those who have a little extra food, extra energy or even extra grief, serving with hands and heart is a great remedy. There’s nothing like paying it forward to stay grounded during turbulent times—in any way, big or small.