Erin Kanno Uehara believes one piece of chocolate can change the world.
Erin Kanno Uehara’s small chocolate business, Choco Le’a in Honolulu, Hawaii, grew rapidly before the pandemic. It boasted two industrial kitchens, forged business partnerships with major hotels and brands, and hired an additional crew for the expanding business.
Then, the pandemic blew doors shut.
Hotels pulled accounts. Brides requested deposits back. Businesses stopped ordering corporate gifts. It all felt like a nightmare.
“I remember being on my hands and knees and saying, ‘God, you’ve got to help me with this,’” she said.
Uehara sought God through prayer, reading her Bible and journaling. Then she began sharing her thoughts online with her “chocolate friends,” customers she missed interacting with in the store.
“When she started taking to social media, she spoke boldly about her faith,” said Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Divisional Director of Development Charmaine Hauanio-Kuewa. “Erin’s faith is first, then her business. And it impacts everything she does.”
Uehara openly shared about struggling as an entrepreneur during COVID, the process of rebuilding her family’s chocolate business into a thriving company again, and her relationship with God.
Her writings turned into a book, “Bringing Peace to Our World: One Chocolate Story at a Time.”
“We had to rebuild,” she said. “But it only deepened my conviction that all it takes is one person doing one thing that can change the world. My one thing is one piece of chocolate that shares love to one person. Then that person shares love to another person—and peace grows.”
Not only do her artisanal dark chocolate truffles sweeten relationships, but they also help her serve her community and support the work of The Salvation Army.
When the fires in Maui devastated the island in August, Uehara threw on her apron.
“She immediately designed a box of chocolate called ‘We See You, Maui’ to help care for families on the ground through The Salvation Army,” Hauanio-Kuewa said. “She didn’t think, ‘I have little to give, so why give?,’ rather she did what she could do, creating chocolate, and she made a difference.”
“We had to rebuild, but it only deepened my conviction that all it takes is one person doing one thing that can change the world.” — Erin Kanno Uehara
Choco Le’a sold the specialized truffle boxes for two months and donated all net proceeds to The Salvation Army’s efforts on Maui, delivering a $2,500 check to The Salvation Army and personally matching the gift directly to the “chocolate friends” impacted by the fires.
Uehara also serves on The Salvation Army’s Echelon Board, a group of young professionals looking to better their community.
“I credit Erin with moving the needle forward in creating a strong foundation for the Echelon Committee and Board,” said Advisory Board Chair Nancy Pace. “She has been a driving force to helping us make a difference.”
Echelon participates in projects aimed to meet the community’s needs alongside The Salvation Army staff, such as giving backpacks with school supplies or volunteering with the Thanksgiving lunch. They also conduct several committees that range from board development, to fundraising and property vision planning.
“They are our extension into every sector of our community,” said Hauanio-Kuewa.
Uehara has been a part of The Salvation Army boards and committees for more than five years.
“I am so happy to serve,” she said. “They know how to move in when there is a need, get things done, and do it with kindness, care and love. Anything I’ve done with the Army has been incredible.”
Her impact was recently recognized with a TOYA award (Ten Outstanding Young Americans) by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
“It was such an honor to be recognized,” she said. “But I think we all can bring peace to our world. One person, doing one thing—whatever that thing is—in unity with others, can make a difference.”