Our hearts go out to our Maui ohana

Donations for Maui residents piled up in front of the state Capitol on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023. Photo by Keli‘i Akina.

Today, I find myself reaching for the words to express my overwhelming sorrow over the destruction caused by wildfires on Maui — especially the tragic loss of Lahaina, a city that so many of us in Hawaii and around the world hold dear.

I love every corner of our state, but Maui has always been special to those of us at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. When we’re not on Oahu, we often find ourselves on Maui, where we have numerous friends and supporters. We work closely with county and other government officials on Maui, and we often hold events there.

Maui — and Lahaina specifically — are also dear to the Grassroot Institute staff because of our personal associations with them. In fact, I first met Joe Kent in Lahaina while he was a music teacher at King Kamehameha III Elementary School, which was burned to the ground. Eventually, I hired Joe to be part of our team, and now he serves as the Institute’s executive vice president.

It is difficult to comprehend how much has been lost to the wildfires. So many beautiful, historic and irreplaceable places are now gone.

Above all, though, there is the loss of life. The governor has warned that the death toll is likely to rise, and I know firsthand the anxiety and fear that we have all experienced while checking in with loved ones on Maui.

For the time being, rescuers and first responders are rightly focused on saving lives and helping those displaced by the fires. While there has been shock and despair at the images we have seen of Lahaina, there has also been an amazing outpouring of concern, volunteerism and giving. The community is coming together at all levels to help our Maui ohana.

I have already encouraged members of the Grassroot staff and board to support the relief efforts however they see fit. This is the time to give of ourselves, as individuals and as a family.

If you are also looking for ways to help, Honolulu Civil Beat has compiled a list of organizations that are aiding victims of the Maui fires.

Let us not forget that there is always room for hope amid tragedy. The resilience already being demonstrated by the people of Maui is inspiring, showing us that Lahaina and the affected areas of Maui can and will be rebuilt.

It will take a while to quantify the damage to Lahaina or what it will take to rebuild. Moreover, we cannot ignore the impact this will have on Maui County and on our state as a whole.

The blow to Maui’s economy and cost to the county and state will be significant. Maui is the second most popular island for visitors, generating more than $3.4 billion in visitor spending so far this year. That translates to millions of dollars in state and county tax revenues.

There will come a time to examine the “how” and “why” of what occurred, to plan for Maui’s recovery and to help rebuild. I promise that the Grassroot Institute will be part of that discussion. But for now, our sole focus is helping our friends and family on Maui.

We have a big challenge ahead of us — one we never saw coming. But this is our opportunity to demonstrate the strength, compassion and, most important, the aloha we in Hawaii are known for.

E hana kākou — let’s work together — to help our friends and family on Maui.

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