Church leaders meet to organize aid efforts

As county, state and federal organizations work to provide aid to residents affected by the Kilauea eruption, faith communities across the island are working just as tirelessly toward the same goal.

Dozens of church leaders gather each Monday in Hilo to discuss how best to delegate operations and distribute resources among their churches’ aid efforts.

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Dion Maeda, pastor of Connect Point Church and facilitator of the interfaith operations, said at Monday’s meeting that the group is in the process of transitioning between short-term response efforts to long-term recovery plans.

“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Maeda said.

Leaders from the group manage different aspects of evacuee assistance, from food and transportation, to spiritual care and laundry services.

Marlene Tamashiro of Puna Baptist Church said at the Monday meeting that a $3,000 grant allowed Pahoa churches to offer laundry vouchers to lava evacuees at the shelters. Tamashiro also said she hopes to distribute coupons for local businesses in the near future in order to support Pahoa businesses struggling after the eruption.

Also in attendance at Monday’s meeting were representatives of the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Red Cross public affairs specialist Barbara Wood said the number of residents staying at the shelters remains relatively consistent, with 204 evacuees at the Pahoa shelter and 40 at the Keaau Armory.

Victor Leonardi, divisional emergency disaster services coordinator for The Salvation Army, said the Salvation Army has served 36,429 meals and counting to evacuees in the shelters so far.

Most significant are the churches’ efforts to provide temporary housing for lava evacuees. Pastor John Trusdell of the Living Waters Assembly of God said a project to erect nine dome-shaped shelters at the Sure Foundation Church in Puna is proceeding well, with funding for six of the domes already pledged and Lowe’s Home Improvement donating all necessary foundation materials.

Meanwhile, Maeda said, 13 “tiny homes” will be set up in Keaau this Saturday, with final inspections to take place next week.

Maeda also invited Suzie Osborne, head of Kua O Ka La Public Charter School, to Monday’s meeting to discuss the fate of her school, which has been completely isolated by lava.

Osborne said the 230-student school needs a new facility — with seven classrooms or a partitionable warehouse — for when the school year begins in August.

“I’m honestly just kind of desperate right now,” Osborne said to the gathered attendees. Maeda said he was confident the faith community would be able to aid Osborne.

While none of the church groups at Monday’s meeting reported significant struggles, Maeda warned that many churches’ congregations are in danger of becoming stretched too thin between donations, fundraisers and volunteer work — one attendee complained of “compassion fatigue” setting in among churchgoers. Maeda recommended bringing additional groups, including nondenominational and secular organizations, into the larger group.

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“There are more than 100 faith communities on the east side of the island alone,” Maeda said. “If more groups can get involved, we’ll be able to do so much more without neglecting our congregations.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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