About 75 volunteers at the River of Life Mission in Chinatown served around 600 meals and gave Christmas gifts to the homeless yesterday. Patrick Gray had lunch with his friends at the park near the Hawaii Theatre.

Homeless find food, hope
and cheer in Chinatown

People needing people came together at the River of Life Mission in Chinatown yesterday to share a Christmas meal.

They included people who are homeless, unemployed and those who simply didn't want to spend the holiday alone.

Valerie Castillo's family invited her to spend Christmas with them, but she chose instead to spend the day with friends at River of Life.

"People here are nice, friendly," said the 40-year-old former hairdresser. "They don't make you feel a lesser-than person."

Castillo, injured in a car accident three years ago, has been unable to work and also split up with her husband a few years ago.

About 75 volunteers, including Moanalua High School basketball players, as well as staff members served about 600 hot holiday meals and Christmas gift bags.

Frederick Asentista sang a medley of Christmas songs yesterday to thank volunteers for his food and clothing.

Unlike some of the less fortunate who attended, Vivienne Robinson lives in a nice downtown high-rise.

"I didn't want to eat dinner alone," said the former Pennsylvania woman, whose family spent the holiday together on the mainland.

"The food is good, the price is right, the company is great and I'm not by myself," she said.

Several of those enjoying the luncheon said their lives have been turned around.

Ex-convict Raylene Puahi, 53, who used to do drugs and live on the streets of Chinatown, was busy serving meals.

"I used to sleep on the steps of River of Life, and God brought me back to the same place to give back," she said.

After she was released from a mainland prison where she learned sign language, Puahi offered to teach sign language to different organizations for free. River of Life directors accepted her offer. Puahi works for TheCab and runs a program to provide children of prisoners with hygiene and school supplies.

Rick Hart, 39, who moved to Hawaii from Seattle in September, was unemployed for a while. But after he volunteered to feed the homeless at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, he got a job from a church member, though he remains homeless.

Mannye Ayala, 47, said he had gone from being a successful business owner and a bilingual teacher to being homeless, but is now in transition.

"Everybody thinks they're invincible, but unfortunately, it could happen to anyone," he said.

The former El Paso resident has had trouble getting work in Hawaii.

"This Christmas, I thought I was going to be really depressed," Ayala said. "But I feel great. ... I'm blessed because I'm a different person."

He said the glitter in the world is no longer important to him; it's helping people. Ayala volunteers at the Queen's Medical Center and the Institute for Human Services.

River of Life provides 12,000 hot meals and 20,000 food boxes monthly and assists with clothing, legal and medical aid for the less fortunate. Donations can be made at 101 N. Pauahi St. or mailed to P.O. Box 37939, Honolulu 96837.


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