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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 18, 2001

Unity campaign needed for local welfare groups

Hawai'i's social service agencies know they are facing a problem of catastrophic proportions.

The Islands' economy took a direct hit on Sept. 11. Thousands of Island residents lost jobs as our tourism-dependent businesses contracted. Thousands more wonder when they will join the unemployment line.

Many of us are not directly affected — not yet, anyway. But look into the faces of the newly homeless, the mother who turns to a church food pantry, the family suddenly without health insurance. They are our neighbors, and their numbers are growing.

The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, the Hawai'i Foodbank and other agencies on the frontlines have seen requests skyrocket. And they are seeing their own resources dry up just as the needs have never been greater. Aloha United Way this week said donations will fall short of needs by $1.7 million this year.

It's tough for these agencies to watch charitable dollars fly off in record amounts to funds benefitting victims and families in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. No one begrudges help to the people who suffered so horribly. Yet, these agencies know the immense scope of the looming crisis here. And they wonder why we are not turning to our neighbors in need in the same generous spirit.

An important first step has been taken. More than 30 social service and religious organizations have banded together to work together to strengthen the safety net.

Ideas have been suggested to legislators, feel-good radio spots are planned. But it will take more than radio and TV spots and suggestions for free bus passes to solve this problem.

It will require a change in how we respond to community needs and how social service agencies work.

Charities must take advantage of community resources, whether it is learning to apply business models to tackling social problems or being more creative in tapping the help available in the community. We call on charitable and social service agencies to involve the community. Call together high school groups, service organizations, church parishes and community groups. Get organized, seek out input from these organizations, build a unified plan.

It will take leadership, it will take a willingness to work together on the same agenda. But if needs and goals are made clear, if the service community speaks powerfully with one voice, Hawai'i's people will roll up their sleeves and respond.