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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 13, 2006

In Quake zone

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

Pastor Mark Kobayashi helps line up one of many jacks needed to lift the front section of Jason Salvador's damaged North Kohala home.

Photos by TIM WRIGHT | Special to The Advertiser

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Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, an umbrella group of nonprofits, is holding a meeting to alert groups to ways they can help with more disaster relief for the quake-rattled Big Island.

10 a.m. tomorrow

Hawai'i County Civil Defense Building, 926 Ululani St., Hilo

(808) 959-4949

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Volunteer worker Kalei Emeliano, left, and homeowner Jason Salvador pound in a floor joist.

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Pastor Mark Kobayashi measures a “pohaku” old-type post on pier footing at Jason Salvador's home. Salvador’s North Kohala home was damaged by the earthquakes on Oct. 15.

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Mark Kobayashi, pastor of the 75-member Faith 4 Kohala, had reached his max point about three days after the Oct. 15 earthquakes of 6.7 and 6.0 rocked the Big Island. A plumber by trade, he'd been lending a hand to neighbors in need.

"It was really bad out here," he said. "Assessment teams had no idea what was going on. Out of 20 homes red-tagged, that's a small fraction of houses that should've been red-tagged."

Acts of good old-fashioned Christian charity have been seen in big and small ways, helping to offset the expected $200 million in damage the quakes caused. Besides single churches jumping in to help their brethren, a network of disaster aid has been reactivated.

Kobayashi was spurred to action when he saw families in his neighborhood living in houses propped up with two-by-four wooden beams. They had plumbing problems, roof problems and the worst, foundation problems.

"Tuesday evening, out of frustration, I called as many as I could to get help," Kobayashi said.

One call went to his friends at New Hope Christian Fellowship. Suddenly, Kobayashi found himself coordinating a relief effort.

New Hope sent a team of men who have helped reset houses that had shifted off their foundations and brace others.


Churches have also been reaching out to other churches.

After news footage of the crumbled rock walls at Kalahikiola Congregational Church in Kapa'au were flashed around the world, three churches — one a fellow member of the United Church of Christ, the others an Episcopalian and a Seventh-day Adventist church — offered members of the historic church a place to worship.

The Rev. George Baybrook, who heads Kalahikiola Congregational Church, has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of help from those within and even outside his church circle, including offers to move debris, use of heavy equipment and even $400 in donations from six of his former classmates from the Mid-Pacific Institute class of 1947.

Through a denominationwide call for donations, the UCC has taken in $13,620 — including $5,000 for Kalahikiola — to aid quake victims, said Diane Weible, UCC minister of communications for the Hawai'i Conference.

UCC, one of the big five of Hawai'i's Christian groups, is standing at the ready to step in with further aid through Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, an umbrella group of nonprofits.

As of Oct. 31, $600,000 in private donations had been raised for quake assistance. The next question is how to distribute aid and put together other offers of help with the right need.

Hence the resurrection of Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, which had lain dormant for the last few years, explained the Rev. Rick Ragle, pastor of Hilo Church of the Nazarene.

"We're in the process now of trying to re-establish (the group)," he said. "The earthquake is a wake-up call."


Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster has scheduled an informational meeting tomorrow for groups, such as churches that have offered help, to learn what they can do in an effort to coordinate — and to keep from duplicating — resources.

"Catholic Charities has some emergency housing available," Ragle said. "There's some adjustments so these families could be put into housing elsewhere, or on longer-term basis. We put people in contact with agencies that provide (aid)."

First responders — such as the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief — are versed in providing immediate help, but after that comes a lag while available government aid gets determined, he explained.

"FEMA has limits how much each household is able to receive," said Ragle. "There are almost always those who for one reason or another don't quite meet the criteria or their need is greater. That's where VOAD organizations can come together."

While there are restrictions on what information can be disclosed to other agencies, Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster can work as a network — but "the dust has to settle down, we have to find out where are the continued needs and go from there," he said.


Churches such as New Hope Christian Fellowship chose grassroots ways instead. They heard the plea from Kobayashi and responded.

"So far, we've done three (house foundation jobs)," Kobayashi said. One homeowner was "quoted $20,000 to do the job; we did it for free. We're just trying to help people out here."

One helper, Sean Nakamoto of Hawai'i Kai, was glad to be of assistance.

"It was pretty shocking to see what was happening," he said. "It's sad to see that. It's good to know we can do work for the Lord and let people know we care."

• • •


As reports of need and damage circulated after the Oct. 15 earthquakes centered off the Big Island, church members from throughout Hawai'i stepped in to help.

Gospel of Salvation Church of Kokoiki cooked up hot meals for an earthquake disaster relief center.

The charitable arms of the United Church of Christ Hawai'i Conference and Catholic Charities are throwing their considerable firepower to an umbrella organization that will fill in the gaps of federal aid.

One Waimea member of The Salvation Army, a faith-based relief group, immediately went to work putting up displaced residents, using her own credit card. The group continues to provide rent and mortgage assistance for those still not able to move back in.

The women's relief society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with many members also working at the Red Cross, heard through the grapevine that Kona Community Hospital patients needed to move to an area hotel and jumped in to lend a hand, said Elaine Watai of the Kona First Ward. Other Mormon groups are still delivering supplies to disaster recovery centers and helping to repair homes.

Waimea area churches opened food banks and served hot meals in the days when aftershocks sent people scrambling from their homes. Southern Baptist groups a week later were serving hot meals at disaster relief centers set up at the YMCA, said the Rev. Karl Ragan.