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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 21, 2002

Maui man brings holiday joy to needy

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

Patricia Pavao of Kahului picks out a Christmas tree and ornaments, courtesy of Kihei resident Bob Douglas.

Christie Wilson • The Honolulu Advertiser

Christmas is a good time to remember that "Hawai'i isn't paradise for all its citizens," said Kihei resident Bob Douglas, who has made it his mission the past eight years to bring some relief into the lives of needy families.

This year, with the help of friends and strangers, Douglas is providing Christmas trees, food baskets and toys for 80 families on Maui and Moloka'i.

"These are not people who are goofing off," he said. "These are people who are working real hard at two or three jobs, or they lost their job through no fault of their own and find themselves in a very bad situation. It's not because they're not trying. How can you not help?"

Living on a fixed income and losing nearly all your eyesight to a rare disease might be reason enough for most people, but not for Douglas, 67.

"With my vision the way it is, I have to prove to myself every day that I'm still useful and can contribute," he said.

Douglas has been involved in other community efforts. He served for five years on the Maui County Commission for Persons with Disabilities, where he labored to improve transportation for the disabled and increase the number of parking stalls for disabled at local businesses, and helped launched a volunteer squad to enforce parking laws for the disabled.

His Christmas project started when he was moved by a public service announcement on the radio to donate Christmas trees to two Maui families. Douglas isn't sure how the holiday project snowballed from there, with donations coming in from around the globe, but he is eager to share stories about those who have helped.

They include a 12-year-old Lahaina girl who sent him $100, a bank teller whose son died a year ago, a man from France who donated money last year and nearly $1,000 again this year, and a Virginia couple who have never been to Hawai'i but heard about Douglas and sent $260 — enough to cover two families.

"I've gotten checks from Seattle, San Diego, Shawnee Mission, Kansas, you name it," he said, pointing out that since he is not a registered charity, the donations are not tax-deductible. "It can't be written off. It all comes from the heart."

Douglas uses the donations, his money and support from businesses such as Kihei Longs, Premiere Mortgage and Jeco Air-Conditioning to buy food and toys. This year he is also getting help from the women's auxiliary of the Maui Contractors Association.

Douglas relies on the county Department of Housing and Human Concerns to identify families in need. He has only one requirement: The families must include children.

On Dec. 4, he accompanied 25 trees to Moloka'i, courtesy of Island Air, and the next day distri-buted 55 trees on Maui. The trees were donated by Lowe's and Home Depot, and Douglas purchased ornaments and lights. On Wednesday and Thursday, food baskets were distributed to the same families, which included 80 children on Moloka'i and 227 on Maui. For the first time, toys also were provided.

County housing specialist Stephanie Franco went with Douglas to Moloka'i to help with the tree distribution and to conduct some home inspections for her job. When she visited one family who had picked up a tree only two hours earlier, the adults had already set it up with lights and ornaments, she said.

"The two of them were just sitting on the floor staring at the tree. They said, 'We can't wait for the kids to come home.' For me it was such a precious moment," Franco said.

At the distribution on Maui, Patricia Pavao was visibly excited to be picking out a tree. "I've got three grandkids I'm raising who are going to enjoy this," she said.

Douglas can be reached at 2777 S. Kihei Road, Unit D-203, Kihei, HI 96753; (808) 875-1241; or at xmascheer@hawaii.rr.com.