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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 9, 2010

6,500 'Helping Hands' clear trash

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The volunteer cleanup was no easy task for a group picking up bags of trash at Waipahu Cultural Gardens.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Kaihilei Pimental took off work yesterday to pick up trash in the park.

And she was happy about it.

The Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant was one of about 6,500 volunteers statewide who converged on parks for a massive cleanup organized as part of the national "Mormon Helping Hands" program.

From O'ahu parks alone, more than 4,000 participants filled five city garbage trucks and 5,640 trash bags. Volunteers also painted over graffiti , raked up leaves, trimmed hedges and made repairs to parks equipment.

Pimental was collecting trash at Ala Moana Beach Park with her 10-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son. It was still mid-morning and already her bag was full of everything from bottle caps to food scraps.

The 'Aiea resident said she jumped at the chance to give back to the community and clean up a park she uses a lot.

"It's a nice feeling," she said.

Nearby, Mike Yadao was filling up a trash bag with his sons, 4 and 2, who were more than a little excited about being able to pick up all kinds of stuff on the ground. Yadao, 30, said the day was about teaching his children the value of community service and showing their appreciation for parks.

"It's a great opportunity to put faith into action," he said.

Cleanup organizers said that yesterday's effort was the first official "Mormon Helping Hands" event in the Islands, but probably not the last.

Mormon Helping Hands, best known for its emergency response volunteerism, including after Hurricane Katrina and following the Haiti earthquake, is an international service effort that started in South America.

In a little more than a decade, it has spread around the globe.

Fred Tanaka, who is bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Aliamanu Ward, said Mormon churches often organize community service efforts. But the "Helping Hands" event, he said, gave Hawai'i Mormons a chance for different congregations to join together for a common cause.

"We're part of this community and we want to give back," he said.

Tanaka was in charge of organizing 250 volunteers yesterday at Ala Moana Beach Park, and decided to split them up into three groups and send them in different directions to pick up trash. Before long, the volunteers were fanning across the park's fields, heads down to look for trash.

After about an hour, Daisy Parrish, 61, was sporting a full bag, with garbage that she expected to see and some she didn't: Easter raffia, bottle tops, cigarette butts, raffle tickets and remnants from popped balloons.

Her son, Emilio, 24, was pretty proud of the work the volunteers accomplished so far and could already see the improvement.

"They say one person can make a difference," he said. "This is one of those times."