How to help Hawaii residents displaced by Maui wildfires

Donations being brought for victims of hawaii disaster. PHOTO: videograb from Reuters video of Aug. 12, 2023, via The Washington Post

Thousands of residents and visitors have been forced to evacuate to escape the devastating wildfires in Maui. As of Friday, officials had confirmed 67 people died. Cultural landmarks in Lahaina, at one time the royal capital of Hawaii, are also in peril. Hawaii’s Gov. Josh Green (D) estimated the flames have already caused billions of dollars in damage and could exacerbate the state’s existing housing shortage.

We’ve gathered some reputable organizations accepting donations to help those affected by the wildfires:

– The Office of the Governor of Hawaii has directed donors to the Hawaii Community Foundation.

– Verified fundraisers on GoFundMe are raising money to help residents rebuild and recover.

– Shoppers in Hawaii can make donations of up to $249 at their nearest Foodland, which is accepting donations at checkout to support the American Red Cross.

– The Maui Mutual Aid Fund is accepting donations to support Maui families, elderly residents, people with disabilities and those with limited or no insurance.

– Aloha United Way, a Honolulu-based nonprofit organization, has created the Maui Relief Fund that will go directly toward efforts supporting victims of the fires.

– The Salvation Army’s Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division is accepting donations to provide meals for thousands displaced in Maui emergency shelters.

– The Maui Food Bank is providing meals for thousands of displaced residents.

– The Hawaii Restaurant Association is organizing donations and volunteer efforts on Maui and Oahu.

– Animal shelters including Maui Humane Society and Hawaiian Humane Society are helping injured and displaced animals as well as assisting in reuniting missing pets with owners.

A firefighting helicopter helps fight flare-up fires in Kula, Maui island, Hawaii, U.S., August 13, 2023. REUTERS/Mike Blake

In the wake of the disaster, “it looks like a war zone,” says Josh Marocco, pastor of Kings Cathedral Maui, which has been feeding and sheltering people displaced by the fires as well as distributing donated goods. “From 4 o’clock this morning I’ve been on the phone with people who want to be a part of helping.”

Charitable organizations are on the scene helping with the crisis, from the American Red Cross of Hawaii to the Hawaii National Guard.

“We’ve had people arrive from Mercy Chefs, a group of chefs that cook day and night,” Marocco says. “We’ve got connected with Convoy of Hope, CityServe . . . we’ve got calls from churches, pastors and people from around the world wanting to be a part of it.”

The nonprofit food-relief organization World Central Kitchen (WCK) also dispatched its emergency response team to supply food and water for first responders, evacuated residents and tourists in need.

“The team reached Maui with hundreds of sandwiches that were quickly delivered to emergency workers fighting the blaze near Lahaina,” the organization said in a statement. “We are now visiting shelters and rural communities on Maui and the Big Island and will continue to identify and fill meal needs.”

Lee Anne Wong is the executive chef of the restaurant Papa’aina at the Pioneer Inn, which was Hawaii’s oldest hotel in continuous operation before it was burned down by the fires. She has been out cooking with a group of chefs and WCK since the tragedy struck.

“I haven’t slept in two days,” Wong says. “That’s the one thing about the Hawaiian community is that we know how to take care of each other. We have whole communities coming together right now.”

To support local relief efforts on the ground, Wong is pointing to willing donors to Maui United Way, a local nonprofit.

“The funds are going directly towards immediate relief, food, supplies,” Wong said. “They’re working with grants to support all the nonprofits on the ground that are helping with the relief effort. So that money goes directly to these efforts as well as eventually the families.”

She’s also encouraging donations to Maui Rapid Response, a mutual aid organization. The organization is encouraging those who can volunteer their resources to complete this form.

“The important thing to remember is like this is going to be an extremely long road to recovery,” Wong says. “We’re talking years – we’re at the very start of this nightmare.”

A Maui County firefighter fights flare-up fires in a canyon in Kula on Maui island, Hawaii, U.S., August 13, 2023. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Sarah Becker, a Maui radio DJ, says she hopes outsiders can look for good fundraising opportunities, which are being widely circulated on social media through accounts like the nonprofit ‘Āina Momona. She also encourages travelers currently on Maui to return home to free up accommodations for locals in need, and those with upcoming trips to postpone their visits. That has also been the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s official recommendation for travel to West Maui.

Maui resident Chelsea Livit agrees that in addition to sending donations, a main way to support Maui is to avoid the island at this time so that depleted resources can be used by those who need them most.

Survivors of previous wildfires, like Sandi Knapp Gerhardt, advised donors to consider giving gift cards or cash cards to provide the most flexibility and control to those who have been displaced.

“When you’ve been traumatized and you’re dealing with PTSD, you don’t feel like digging through 10 bags of clothes and finding one shirt that might fit you,” said Gerhardt, who survived the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif.

While the internet has been a helpful source of information gathering and sharing, it can also be confusing, particularly for outsiders looking for ways to make donations. Marocco has seen dubious links for donations being shared online, and encourages donors to look for trusted organizations.

“Unfortunately, there’s going to be a lot of people that are going to use this as an opportunity for a payday,” he says.

Green’s office has shared similar warnings from Attorney General Anne Lopez about fake fundraisers.

“In moments of crisis, we all must be extra vigilant against bad actors who try to take advantage of people’s goodwill,” Lopez said in a news release. “We are already seeing various fundraising efforts being promoted on social media platforms and online.”

Lopez shared tips such as donating directly through a charity’s website and only making donations through secured websites (you’ll see a small lock icon in the address bar), and linked to a pamphlet with more information and resources.



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