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How We Live: To stop feeling isolated, he started volunteering. Now he can’t get enough.

Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 2:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For Elijah Dacanay, free time isn’t a luxury.

That’s why on his days off, he’s rarely idle. Instead, you’ll likely find him helping a friend or volunteering at numerous organizations.

“I’m the type of person that I need to keep my mind and hands engaged, so I have to keep working or else I can’t operate correctly,” he said.

When COVID hit Hawaii in March of last year, shutting down the state and forcing residents into quarantine — Dacanay was cut off from the one thing that usually keeps him going: Being around and interacting with other people.

This story is part of an ongoing digital series from HNN called “How We Live,” which explores the ways that COVID-19 has upended our “normal” and brought about change ― and adaptation.

Less than two weeks after Hawaii went into lockdown, Dacanay couldn’t spend anymore time in isolation. He made the decision to begin volunteering at the Hawaii Foodbank.

“I think that is a huge reason why I decided to volunteer because I could legally go out and interact with people without getting in trouble,” Dacanay joked.

But on a serious note, he wanted to help those who were struggling due to the pandemic.

“I’m very fortunate and blessed since I work for the government, so my job is pretty secure,” he said.

“But having a job during this tough time and after seeing so many people get laid off, I felt that I had to do something. I had to be out there to help the people that were impacted more by the pandemic than I was.”

Working from home as a field service representative at Pearl Harbor, Dacanay had the chance to grab a flex schedule of four days a week. This opened up his Fridays, which he often spent volunteering.

“I started off the first two months, two to three days a week, sorting produce into what we can give and what we had to throw away. Sometimes I went to Salvage, which is sorting out canned goods.”

Dacanay later got stationed to volunteer at the Lighthouse Outreach Center in Waipahu — and he’s been volunteering there ever since.

For Dacanay, volunteering is basically second nature and is an activity he holds close to his heart.

Originally from the Bay Area, Dacanay grew up volunteering at the food bank of his local church. This experience led him to wanting to volunteer at Hawaii’s food bank.

Furthermore, Dacanay said an even bigger reason for his choice to volunteer was because he knew what it was like to live through tough times.

“Growing up we weren’t the richest, so I grew up on spam, rice, ramen and all of that stuff, so I understand the struggle,” he said.

“I grew up with that stuff, so seeing the food we are giving to the people that need it, is very personal. They could be my nieces and nephews, grandma, grandpa, aunty, uncle.”

Looking back on his time volunteering, Dacanay said there was one moment that really stuck with him.

“You have to swallow your pride to ask for food. But, seeing a grown uncle cry, like apologizing for asking for food when he shouldn’t be apologizing, man that hit me hard.”

Seeing that and how grateful people were to receive some sort of help during these hard times was what kept him coming out to volunteer.

“Just seeing the gratitude, having aunties and uncles saying thank you at the distributions — that went a long way. It galvanized my spirit to keep coming out and continue working.”

With the spirit and passion to help others, Dacanay not only volunteered for more than 125 hours at the food bank, but he was also an active volunteer with the Kokonut Coalition, Salvation Army, Humane Society, 808CleanUp and Waikiki Aquariums.

“Fridays I’m working at the Lighthouse, Saturdays always helping someone move or going to Koko Head to help out or finding a volunteer opportunity. Sundays are my only day off, but even then I’m trying to help people out,” he said.

Although his schedule is packed from work to volunteering and there are hardly any rest days, Dacanay said there’s nothing stopping him from pursuing his passion of helping others.

“I have a lot of joy in helping others,” he said.

“With volunteering, there’s always going to be a person that needs help and having the small opportunity to help someone is going to go a long way.”

Even as Hawaii begins to open up and return to some type of normalcy, Dacanay said he will always find time to help those in need.

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