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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 6, 2010

Contributing as well as chronicling

 •  Advertiser writes final chapter in 154-year story


By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Puao Finai, a warehouse clerk at the Community Clearinghouse, leafs through a scrapbook of news clippings from 1969 about the help that what was then the Volunteer Services Bureau got from The Honolulu Advertiser Christmas Fund.

Photos by BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Community Clearinghouse, a program of Helping Hands Hawaii, has a warehouse of donated goods it distributes to the needy.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Thanh Giang, a programmer at First Insurance Co. of Hawaii, was among volunteers selling Kids Day editions.

Advertiser library photo

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The Honolulu Advertiser didn't just chronicle life in the Islands, it worked to make life better in ways big and small with fundraisers and sponsorships, blood drives and volunteer campaigns.

Over its 154-year history, The Advertiser sponsored community events, from sports games to spelling bees to festivals. And it used its pages to highlight worthy causes, give voice to the less fortunate and call for last-minute donations for everything from Toys for Tots (for needy kids at Christmas) to Meals on Wheels (so seniors wouldn't be cut from the cash-strapped program).

Behind the scenes, too, employees contributed to the community in all sorts of ways. In companywide efforts, they gave blood, donated to Aloha United Way and other charities and banded together to participate in events such as Race for the Cure.

Marisa Yagi, Advertiser benefits administrator and "lifesavers club" coordinator, said she was amazed when staffers told her to go ahead as planned with a blood drive April 28, even though many were busy worrying about their futures. That day, employees gave 26 pints of blood.

"It's amazing, these folks," said Yagi, who would have celebrated her 21st year with The Advertiser in September. "Despite what was happening here, the feeling I got was ... we can still do good, so we're going to do it."

For readers, The Advertiser's annual donation drives became something of a tradition. There was the Christmas Fund, dating back more than 50 years, which benefited needy families through Helping Hands Hawai'i. There was adopt-a-family, also through Helping Hands, in which readers could donate toys and clothes to low-income families for the holidays. And there was the annual Kids Day newspaper, on May 5, a benefit for Parents and Children Together.

THOSE IN NEED

Each year for the Christmas Fund, Advertiser reporters wrote about families in need and their "wish lists" usually toys and clothes for the kids and household goods for the grown-ups.

In December 2009, 172 families were adopted by the charity program, and the Christmas Fund brought in $175,000 for use year-round to help thousands of households with emergency funds for rent, utility payments or transportation.

On average, the fund brought in $200,000 a year.

Scott Morishige, program director of the Community Clearinghouse at Helping Hands Hawai'i, said the Christmas Fund and adopt-a-family are a chance for readers to get a sobering glimpse into the lives of those in need.

The stories told readers a little bit about the family that needed help, and about their struggles: The family of five that had been living in a van; the grandparents raising their grandchildren; the Wai'anae mom who asked for a beach chair so her disabled daughter could dip her toes into the water again.

"I think you have a certain image of what someone in need" looks like, Mori-shige said. "It kind of helps to show that anyone can be in need. But for whatever, it could be you in that situation."

Puao Finai, a warehouse clerk at the Community Clearinghouse, where the adopt-a-family donated toys and goods are dropped off, said the program gives people real joy, often at a time when they're struggling to find anything to be happy about.

"Without this program, I don't know what people are going to do," she said. "It helps a lot of people."

It's not yet clear whether adopt-a-family, the Christmas Fund, Kids Day and similar efforts will live on at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

KIDS AND MOMS

The Advertiser's Kids Day newspaper, a longtime annual fundraiser, collected about $50,000 annually. Local public figures, from politicians to business owners, would hawk the paper at busy Honolulu intersections.

This year, the effort raised $58,000 for a list of family strengthening and education programs at Parents and Children Together.

Norma Spierings, of PACT, said the unrestricted money during these tough economic times helped keep at-risk programs going.

"We can place it where we need it most," she said.

The Advertiser's Moms LikeMe.com site has spearheaded several of its own fundraising efforts since its launch in 2007, and has collected some $12,000 for various efforts, including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the March of Dimes' March for Babies.

The site's 10,000 registered moms have also participated in drives for clothes, books and toys.

Esme Infante Nii, Moms LikeMe.com manager and host, said the generosity of mothers on the site has, many a time, left her with chicken skin.

"A lot of these moms, they're not rich people. They've got families," Nii said. "But they chip in $5 or $10, and pretty soon it adds up. They all kind of take their cue off each other to think globally, and their enthusiasm is contagious."