OHA trustees approve $5 million in emergency disaster relief
In an effort to provide financial resources to Native Hawaiian families impacted by the 2023 Maui Island wildfires, Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) trustees have approved a total of $5 million in emergency disaster relief funds.
Also approved at the Aug. 18, 2023, board meeting was the creation of a Permitted Interaction Group (PIG), which would allow designated board members to assess the situation on Maui and make recommendations to the entire board in an effort to speed up response time.
The utter devastation brought by the Maui wildfires has brought unprecedented and catastrophic loss.
“Trustees are extremely concerned about the conditions of our people on Maui, and these funds are intended to help them over a period of time. The PIG has been created to investigate a means of distributing our monies and determine how our funds can be utilized most effectively,” said OHA Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey.
“We believe that this money is crucial to help Native Hawaiians, and this is just the beginning of what OHA will be doing to help the Hawaiian people on Maui,” added OHA Interim Ka Pouhana/CEO Colin Kippen.
OHA also partnered with the international nonprofit Global Empowerment Mission (GEM) by putting out a kāhea to beneficiaries directly affected by the fires, and then providing space at OHA’s Maui Office to facilitate GEM’s distribution of short-term housing vouchers.
Within a week of the disaster, hundreds of people stopped by OHA’s office in Kahului where GEM staff distributed $1.9 million in housing vouchers to be used at Airbnbs on Maui. About 420 families received a voucher. GEM also passed out gift cards and supplies.
GEM was formed in response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. Its objective is to deliver the greatest amount of aid to the greatest number of people in need, in the shortest amount of time with minimum overhead. To date, GEM has deployed over 355 disaster relief missions in 52 countries.
“GEM is a nonprofit that has been working in Ukraine. They asked us to facilitate for them, so they were working out of the OHA office. Their vouchers were for short term, immediate housing and there’s been a cooperative work group with them and Airbnb. This work has been a blessing for the people of Maui,” Lindsey said.
GEM has since relocated into a larger building located at 115 S. Wakea Ave., Unit B in Kahului.
On Aug. 19, 2023, in coordination with Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA), OHA opened the Maui Relief Storage Facility at a warehouse that it owns in Hakuone at Kakaʻako Makai.
The more than 30,000-square-foot warehouse space is being provided by OHA at no cost. Previously used as a shelter, the warehouse is located at 200 Keawe Street.
The coordinated donation management center will receive, sort and inventory donations collected for Maui residents impacted by the wildfires and store them until they are ready to be transported and received on Maui. CNHA selected Oʻahu-based nonprofit Makana o Ke Akua to facilitate the management of both donated supplies and volunteers at the Maui Relief Storage Facility, as well as to provide coordination support between state, county and donation centers.
“Right now there is so much need and our community has really stepped up in support of our Maui ʻohana during this unimaginable tragedy,” said Kūhiō Lewis, CNHA CEO. “The Maui Relief Storage Facility will help to provide some structure and organization to the relief efforts and make it easier for the teams on the ground in Maui to get supplies to those who need it most.”
“In the spirit of lōkahi we unite with Lt. Gov. Luke and CNHA in a coordinated effort to provide support in this time of crisis. The use of our warehouse for Maui relief efforts aligns with OHA’s plan to develop Hakuone in a way that improves the quality of life for Native Hawaiians and our local community,” said Kalei Akaka, OHA O‘ahu trustee. “We’re here to help. We’re here to serve our Hawaiian people. We stand committed to kōkua in efforts such as this.”
The Maui Relief Storage Facility on Oʻahu will work directly with Maui’s donation management center – that opened on Monday, Aug. 14 – to ensure that relief supplies are sorted, organized and prioritized, and that what is needed on Maui gets there as expeditiously as possible.
“Being Maui Strong means giving our Maui ʻohana the space they need to grieve and heal. Healing is a process, and while we’ve received tremendous support in donations, we want to be thoughtful and respectful to how we deploy resources to our Maui ʻohana,” Luke said.
“Standing up this donation management center on Oʻahu with support from the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement in coordination with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs allows us to be ready to deploy what Maui needs, when they need it.”
OHA was also one of the presenting sponsors for the Wiwoʻole Maui Benefit Concert held on Aug. 19 and livestreamed around the world. OHA assisted by securing the Grand Wailea as the concert venue and helped promote the event. More than $100,000 was raised.
OHA board chair and Maui Island trustee Lindsey was also affected by the fires, when she was forced to evacuate her Kula home at 4:00 a.m. after receiving an emergency alert on her phone.
“I was really shocked,” she said. “I thought that can’t be near me, so I hesitated. But my friends living downstairs said ʻDid you hear that? You think it’s serious?’ Don’t ever question the emergency alerts! I took my dogs and went up to my granddaughter’s home and stayed there for the day. But I was one of the fortunate ones. My home was spared.”
Lindsey expressed her concern that people will still need to pay their bills even if their home burned down. “Some of them have lost their jobs. There’s so many people who were working in central Lahaina where all the businesses were burned down. They are going to need help, and OHA will help as much as possible.
“We have cried so many tears over these past few weeks. We’ve heard so many sad stories,” Lindsey said. “But you know, our people are resilient. And we’re going to come together.
“I can visualize the people of Lahaina cleaning up, one lot at a time, so that their homes can be rebuilt, and they can live next to each other again. There’s been so much aloha shared by various organizations and churches; it’s heartwarming to see people come together.”
A list of available resources and OHA activities can be found at www.oha.org/mauirelief.
Maui Relief Efforts
Disaster Recovery and Assistance Center
Apply for disaster recovery assistance.
UH Maui, 310 W. Kaʻahumanu Ave., Kahului.
Open daily 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Apply online at DisasterAssistance.gov
FEMA Helpline 1-800-621-3362
Maui Nui Strong
Maui County information for fire relief, volunteering, and making donations.
The Family Assistance Center (FAC)
Hyatt Regency Monarchy Ballroom, 200 Nohea Kai Dr., Kā‘anapali
Open daily 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Immediate family members of individuals unaccounted for can go in-person to submit a DNA sample. If you live outside of Maui, contact the FBI at (808) 566-4300 or HN-COMMAND-POST@ic.fbi.gov to coordinate the submission of a DNA sample.
Warnings Regarding DNA Collection
- Any request for payment in connection with the collection of a DNA sample is a SCAM and should be reported to the Maui Police Department at 808-244-6400.
- The FAC in Kāʻanapali is the only location on Maui authorized to collect DNA samples to assist in identifying remains.
- DNA samples collected at the FAC are only used for identification of wildfire victims and will not be stored or used for any other purpose.
- FAC staff are NOT calling community members to request DNA samples.