While federal individual assistance programs were approved for Kilauea victims last Thursday, North Hawaii residents began pitching in more than a month ago.
Dozens of individuals in Kawaihae, Waimea, Waikoloa Village and Hawi have led grassroots efforts beginning in early May to raise money and gather nonperishable foods, toiletries, tarps and other basic items for displaced families.
Rhonda Bell, who spearheads The Big Island Giving Tree — a nonprofit organization comprised of volunteers that help struggling families and seniors year-round — started collecting blankets, towels and water for evacuees on May 4, the day after the first eruption. She and other volunteers have loaded up trucks and delivered canned food, produce, bags of rice, pet food and other necessities to Pahoa Community Center and nearby shelters almost every day since.
In other parts of the region, donation tables have been seen at grocery stores, farmers markets and online the past few weeks.
Shelley Hirning reached out to friends and neighbors in Waikoloa Village and beyond in late May for donations she then drove to Pahoa Community Center June 3.
On June 9, a woman was spotted at the Hawi farmers market with a big sign, hoping to fill a truck heading to Puna with supplies. The same day, Waimea resident Dayna Kaia sat outside KTA Superstore Waimea for 10 hours, welcoming food and nonperishables as part of a food drives she led. Future food drives are scheduled at KTA Waimea July 13 and 14 and Aug. 10 and 11.
“I take food from The Food Basket and give it to the people. The numbers have raised daily from the mandatory evacuations,” she said. “I even have some families living in tents in my yard in Waimea.”
Earlier this month, three 15-year-old students in a Waimea homeschooling program created a GoFundMe page with a goal to raise $1,000 for Puna victims as their final project of the school year.
“We wanted to remotely earn something for a good cause,” student Jai Oakland said. “I’ve texted most of my family about it to get donations. It feels rewarding to support a local situation.”
Also spreading the word on Facebook and through emails, $700 had been raised as of Friday morning.
“We did fundraising for a soccer team to go to Oahu before, but nothing like this,” Cameron Stuart, another student, said. “I’ve learned through this project how bad it is for the lava flow victims. I probably would have assumed the families still had homes, not realizing they had lost everything.”
As part of their homeschooling requirements, the students must complete a certain number of hours volunteering within the community.
“I think it’s a great thing to help people in need because they would do the same thing for us if we were in the same situation,” Joshua Stuart said. “This shows that anybody can help out if they want to, even if they just donate a few dollars.”
Once raised, the $1,000 will be sent to HOPE Services Hawaii. On their website it says that exact amount would furnish a home for a family in transition.
“It’s great that they took it upon themselves, recognized the need, understand it now and developed an empathy for the situation,” Jennifer Green, their teacher, commented. “I’m really proud of them. There’s a lot going on to help and it feels good to be a part of something.”
To help the students reach their goal, donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/d65dzd-homeless-in-hawaii.
North Hawaii residents have also organized A Convoy to Puna that will be held from 7-11 a.m. June 30 at The Stables in Waikoloa Village. For more information on specific items needed email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Landry Fuller Special to West Hawaii Today