Church gives families affected by lava a day to unwind

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Dr. Heidi Wu offers basic medical services Saturday during Family Fun Day at Puna Baptist Church in Pahoa.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Shana Ritsema smiles with her daughter Raziah, 8, Saturday during Family Fun Day at Puna Baptist Church in Pahoa.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Denise and Heath Dalton eat popcorn and shave ice with their kids, Elle, 5, and A.J., 3 Saturday during Family Fun Day at Puna Baptist Church in Pahoa. The family lost their home to lava in Leilani Estates.

The eruption may have been not much more than 2 miles away.

But it was out of the minds of those attending the Family Fun Day on Saturday at Puna Baptist Church, which organized the event to give families impacted by the volcano a much-needed break.


“We want it to be a day of normalcy for anyone affected by the evacuation,” said Pat Mullin, event organizer and the church’s Awana youth director. “So what we’re doing, we set it up so the families can come, the parents can just relax, let their kids have fun, without worrying about the day-to-day stuff with everything else they got going on.”

For the keiki, there was face painting, games, shave ice, popcorn, a large inflatable side, a bounce house and more.

The church also offered free hygiene kits for families, and a doctor and a counselor also were on site for those displaced.

Dr. Heidi Wu, a volunteer with Global Hope Network International, said her first patient of the day was a child who got a splinter from playing.

“Whether taking a splinter out of a kid’s hands, or reassuring someone of their symptoms … every bit helps,” she said. “It reminds us this could be us. We’re all here to help each other.”

Mullin said safety was a priority and he was carrying a portable sulfur dioxide detector. He showed it reading 0 parts per million.

Church member Marlene Tamashiro said Pahoa churches banded together from the beginning to help those displaced. Services include offering laundry vouchers at the shelters and prayer.

That church alliance, known as Puna Strong, will hold a rummage sale June 30 at Kinoole Baptist Church with proceeds used to buy gift certificates redeemable at Pahoa businesses. Certificates will be provided to evacuees.

“People are resilient if they have someone walking along side them,” Tamashiro said. “It gives people a sense of hope.”

She said the church has been hit hard by the eruption, which began May 3 in Leilani Estates. Tamashiro estimated at least 75 percent of its members have been directly impacted, either by losing a home or knowing someone who has.

Shana Ritsema, who lost her home in Leilani, said the event was a nice way for her kids to play with their friends and not deal with the worries of being an evacuee.

“It’s been stressful,” said Ritsema, who is living in Hawaiian Paradise Park for now. “It’s been really hard. We try not to think about it too much.”

But she added the community has been sticking together well through it all.


“I’ve been helped a lot,” Ritsema said.

Email Tom Callis at

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