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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 1, 2002

In hard times, greatest need is for basic items

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

A young couple from Guam, with a critically ill son, who needed jobs and household goods, and a single mother in Palama facing eviction who could not afford to feed her four children were among the hundreds of people helped last year by The Honolulu Advertiser's Christmas Fund.

In a year marked by personal uncertainty and economic turmoil, the 2001 Christmas Fund raised a record $181,218, thanks to the generosity of readers and thousands of people who participated in the Jingle Bell Run, which contributed $15,312 toward the total.

The largest single donation, about $28,000, came from a contributor who matched the first $25 of each donation received. This generous Santa, who wishes to remain anonymous, has matched the first $25 of each donation for the last 10 years.

All the money goes to Helping Hands Hawai'i, which works with more than 170 agencies helping the needy across Hawai'i with goods and services.

Brian Schatz, executive director of Helping Hands Hawai'i, said there had been an increase in requests this year for basic household items such as cribs and clothing, rather than furnishings such as sofas and desks.

"Most of the people we're serving are working as hard as they can, or trying to find jobs to put clothes on the backs of their children," Schatz said. "After buying food and paying rent, there's not enough left over."

Mail checks payable to The Advertiser Christmas Fund to:

    Helping Hands Hawai'i
    P.O. Box 19155
    Honolulu, HI 96817

Donations to the Christmas Fund can also be dropped off at First Hawaiian Bank branches statewide. To donate canned food or household goods, call the Helping Hands Hawai'i Community Clearinghouse at 536-7234.

A touching moment came when a young couple from Wai'anae was able to mark the burial site of a 6-week-old daughter who died of sudden infant death syndrome, thanks to the donation of a top-of-the-line gravestone by an anonymous donor.

The Advertiser Christmas Fund and Helping Hands Hawai'i help people struggling with either a one-time setback, such as the loss of a job, or a continuing challenge, such as keeping the family together after a catastrophic illness.

The couple from Guam, "R.V." and "G.V.," came to Hawai'i in April 2001 to seek medical help for their son, who was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia by doctors here. By November, medical bills and the cost of living in Hawai'i had drained their savings.

At this time last year, G.V. was trying to find a job and the couple needed basic household goods.

"We got a lot of response — more than we needed — so we tried to help others," R.V. said. "The people in Hawai'i did a lot. Everything is going good so far, and we're pretty much stable now. Another family has a child that is going through the same thing we did, so we're trying to help them. We know things can turn around."

The health of the couple's 7-year-old son is stable. "In all his checkups, he's had no problems," R.V. said.

"P.T.," a single mother, was relying on small food donations from Catholic Charities and The Salvation Army to feed three of her four children — ages 13, 5 and 2 — and was about to be evicted from her Palama apartment. Her 16-year-old daughter had run away from home.

Social workers Lynne Akana and Eugene Mika of Palama Family Service Center assist people at Mayor Wright and Ka'ahumanu Homes. They helped P.T. get back on track.

"She's working full time and everyone is eating regularly," Mika said. "The boy is going to charter school and playing sports at Palama Settlement. Her daughter was located. She has not returned home, but is safe."

Mary Oneha, case manage- ment/utilization director of community health services at the Wai'anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, said there is a greater need than usual for food, shelter and clothing.

"We have people coming to our office looking for rice and basic items like toilet paper," Oneha said. "Last year we saw a number of donors who were overly generous. They went far and beyond. I'm hoping they can help again."

The Advertiser will once again publish stories daily about the need that exists in the community.

"This year is really about servicing the most critical needs, rather than helping people with things they might want," said Schatz, a state legislator representing the 25th District (Makiki, Tantalus). "The reality of 9/11 is we still have families recovering from loss of jobs and the downturn in tourism. We also have people coming up on the final months of the allowable time on welfare."