Waimanalo organization helps those in need: ‘Whatever we can do to help them, we’re here with open arms’

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — The holidays are about showing gratitude for the blessings in our lives and sharing what we have with others. For Blanche McMillan, the CEO of Hui Mahi’ai Aina in Waimanalo, it is about fulfilling a family legacy of service to the community.

Blanche’s mission was about more than just feeding the homeless for Thanksgiving — it was about providing them with homes and opportunities to better themselves year-round.

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Blanche said she always knew she wanted to serve others. She learned it from her parents while growing up in Waimanalo.

“I grew up with my dad and mom who loved to take care of others. I come from a family of 17, nine sisters and eight brothers. My family would always take people in, strangers, whatever people if they don’t have food, people that don’t have clothing. I look at (my parents) and I say, ‘One day I wanna be that.'”

Blanche McMillan, the CEO of Hui Mahi’ai Aina

When COVID hit in March 2020, Blanche took action by creating Hui Mahi’ai Aina.

“When I first heard about the COVID, I didn’t want anybody to be sick out there. So, I decided it was time for them to come home where the land is, where they would be safe and protected,” Blanche added.

Blanche then started taking people in. Since then her Hui Mahi’ai Aina has grown. They have tiny homes and a community garden — all of it donated.

Wayleen McMillan, president of Hui Mahi’ai Aina, moved back to Waimanalo to help her mother fulfill her grandparent’s vision.

“Whatever we can do to help them, we’re here with open arms,” Wayleen said. “We do food bank every Tuesday night and 12 p.m. every first Thursday of the month. We do a big drive at the food bank at Waimanalo gym. Other than that, if anybody comes here with any problems, if they need food, clothing, hygiene stuff, we have it all. They can just come here.”

The number of people living on the property varies as people transition out of the shelters to more permanent housing. There are currently 35 adults and eight kids living there.

For Thanksgiving, their mission was to feed everyone in Waimanalo who are in need.

When Tammy and Capone Vitolo met Blanche, they knew they wanted to chip in.

“There’s a lot more people that are a lot more unfortunate than we are so we got to give back,” Capone Vitolo said.

“We banded together with the Band of Brothers, and we came and we brought breakfast,” Tammy Vitolo added. “And then we capitalized on that and we teamed up with our other really good friends A&G Bar and Grill out in Waianae, and we got lunch for them. So, now we’re back for round number two.”

Several Waimanalo churches shuttled the homeless in to eat and delivered food to hundreds of others.

Janita Mercades, her oldest daughter Jocelyn Fujita and four younger children moved into Hui Mahi’ai Aina a year and a half ago after losing her home. It has changed their lives.

“It was amazing, just seeing the smiles and the comfort my little siblings had,” Fujita said. “That was enough for me — to just know that I was home, and I was safe.”

“I can’t put words to that,” Mercades said. “I can’t put feelings to that. It’s overwhelming and I feel very lucky and blessed, and I think we all do.”

“Everything is a blessing,” Fujita said, as she smiled and looked at her mom. “It’s a blessing after blessing every single day. And today it just expanded.”

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“It did,” Mercades added with a smile. “It kind of just blew up my heart. It did.”

To make a donation or find out more about Hui Mahi’ai Aina, click here.

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