Monday, Sept. 25, 2023|
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Upward of $200 million has been raised by five of the top sources of private donations and their affiliates for Maui wildfire victims, with charitable funds coming from hundreds of thousands of donors in Hawaii and across the globe.
Government funding has been significant, with FEMA reporting last week that more than $103 million has been approved for more than 5,500 households. However, private funding also has an important role to play in Maui’s recovery.
Fallout from the Lahaina town fire that killed at least 97 people, destroyed some 2,200 homes and contributed to thousands of jobs losses is rapidly unfolding — and private charities are often better positioned to respond quickly as they have greater flexibility than government sources on how they can distribute money.
The largest to date of the private donor funds, the Maui Strong Fund, started by the Hawaii Community Foundation with $1 million in commitments the day after the fire, has now grown to more than $111 million, comprising about 208,000 transactions from 45 nations.
HCF CEO and President Micah Kane said, “This is definitely going to be a long haul — the resources that come in are not just for immediate relief but for the future phases of the disaster and phases of recovery.”
Kane said so far the fund has distributed $18.5 million to 103 grantees. He said HCF’s disaster response is in four phases, including risk reduction and disaster readiness, rapid relief and response, recovery and stabilization, and rebuilding resilience.
“When these disasters hit, you want to flush the system with as much resources as you can so you get as much depth as you can,” he said. “Usually about 20 %-25% of the funds go out in the first two phases. You want to preserve 75%-80% for the future recovery. As we start to move forward, (we) can start to refine your strategy with a lot more context and use of data.”
A GoFundMe spokesperson said that so far, more than $55 million has been raised on GoFundMe for Maui survivors, with donations coming from more than 340,000 people across all 50 states and at least 100 countries.
GoFundMe.org’s Wildfire Relief Fund has raised more than $1.3 million, the GoFundMe spokesperson said. Through Classy, an affiliate of GoFundMe, nonprofits also have raised more than $15 million, the GoFundMe spokesperson said.
Another significant private source of support since the Maui wildfires has been the Maui United Way, which has raised more than $15 million to date from more than 50,000 donors. More than $5 million of that already has been sent to fire survivors for emergency financial assistance, and vetting is ongoing to distribute another $2 million.
Aloha United Way also has established a Maui Relief Fund to benefit the Maui United Way, and as of Sept. 6 has raised more than $2.3 million, of which $2 million already has been distributed.
Maui United Way already has distributed the first round of payments from its direct cash assistance program, which offered $1,000 per person and up to $5,000 per household within days of the disaster.
Nicholas Winfrey, Maui United Way president and chief professional officer, said in a statement, “We launched this program without having all of the money secured which was both risky and the right thing to do. We had a moral imperative to help these families quickly and to raise the money just as fast.”
Maui United Way’s cash assistance program has now come to a close, and the nonprofit said that it will soon announce the second phase of support for fire survivors. Beyond direct financial assistance, Maui United Way has approved 18 grants to nonprofit partners.
While the Aloha United Way and Maui United Way collections are not the largest of the private funds, they have been distinguished by their rapid distribution to meet the huge emerging needs as evidenced by a roughly fourfold rise in people reaching out to its 211 information and referral service.
Jennifer Pecher, vice president of Aloha United Way’s 211 community response programs, said there have also been tremendous week-over-week increases to all 211 channels, which include call, text and chat. The total volume of 211 from the fire to Sept. 3 was 8,913, with calls the week of Aug. 27 to Sept.3 hitting nearly 3,000. The peak day for 211 calls during this time frame was Aug. 31 with 674 calls, which compared with 103 calls the Thursday before the fire.
Pecher said 45% of the call volume since the wildfires has come from Maui County.
“It’s absolutely more than the (2018) eruption, it’s absolutely more than the (2019) Kauai floods. Just the sheer population impacted makes a difference, but also the deep needs that are multiple really impact our call volume. We are looking at COVID numbers here. Six hundred calls in a day — that’s equivalent to where we were at in 2020.”
Pecher said top requests have been for assistance in obtaining disaster-related cash grants, post-disaster housing assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. She said approximately 80% of those who reach out to 211 are able to obtain one to three resources.
Pecher said back-end data available on the site also is useful because it can help “identify resource deserts in our community.”
She added that a current need identified in the database is for more assistance for those who may not have lost homes, but have lost jobs because they worked in the burn area or because of the downturn in tourism.
The People’s Fund of Maui, which was started at the end of August with a $10 million contribution from Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne “The Rock ” Johnson, was set up to provide $1,200 a month to Maui survivors.
Though the fund is modeled after what Dolly Parton did in the wake of the 2016 Gatlinburg, Tenn., fire, Winfrey and Johnson have been criticized online for asking others to contribute to the fund instead of funding it solely with their own wealth.
Still, the Entertainment Industry Foundation, the fund’s nonprofit charity navigator, said in an email that community engagement has been broad and that over the past two weeks, more than 13,000 have provided additional support from across the country on an individual and corporate level.
An in-person support center was available in West Maui last week, and a call center will run seven days a week through Friday’s application deadline.
Kaimana Brummel, the community liaison between the People’s Fund of Maui and the Native Hawaiian council composed of community leaders and elders, said in a statement, “I have seen the devastation of the fires firsthand and the toll it has taken on my close friends and family, and I’ve been speaking to local leaders about what this community needs to start taking steps towards healing and recovery. When survivors begin receiving their payments this week — just weeks after the fund was launched — it will be clear the impact the People’s Fund can make. We’re just getting started.”
Another private funding avenue is the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s Kako ‘o Maui Fund, which now has raised more than $7 million, far surpassing CNHA’s initial goal to match up to $100,000 in community donations. The fund’s focus is on the Native Hawaiian community; however, CNHA is servicing all those affected.
CNHA CEO Kuhio Lewis said in a statement, “The needs of our lahui and the Maui community are quickly evolving and we are working closely with state and county leaders, nonprofit organizations, and community members to identify and understand what they are and how to best address them.”
Lewis said the fund has provided more than $800,000 in direct support to several organizations and individuals. He said the fund has underwritten the cost of providing direct services at the hub, which already has served more than 700 people since its Sept. 4 opening. Funding also is supporting management of the Kaka‘ako Maui Storage Relief Facility and of the Maui County storage and distribution center in Kahului.
On Friday, CNHA launched free workforce development courses for Maui residents to help prepare them for the emerging jobs related to cleanup and rebuilding of Lahaina.
CNHA also is operating the Kako‘o Maui Resource Hub at 70 Kaahumanu Ave. in Kahului, which is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The hub is unique in that it has employed wildfire survivors like Kukui Keahi, a ninth-generation Lahaina resident who lost her home and two jobs in the wildfire.
Keahi, who is serving as the hub’s site manager, said the majority of survivors who come into the hub have not yet begun applying for assistance, which can be an uncomfortable and fear-laden process.
“I recently had someone come in and say, ‘I received an email that this was opening, and I saw your face and I knew that’s where I needed to go because you looked familiar,‘” Keahi said. “This unfortunate situation couldn’t have happened to a more tightknit community. Lahaina will stand together. We’re going to rise above, and we’re going to lift each other on the way there.”
Keahi said part of the hub’s strength is that it’s about survivors helping other survivors, which helps build confidence for the road ahead.
“I don’t think any one person can do this alone,” she said. “Everyone brings something to the table, and everyone can contribute and build each other up to get back to where we need to be — maybe even be greater the next time around.”
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