For nearly two weeks, the emergency distribution center at Nāpili Plaza has been a concrete source of water, food and other necessities — and a place for equally needed emotional support.
The center was organically created when it became clear donations dropped at West Maui fire stations should be moved to a central location to make it easier for community members who lost everything in the fire or were impacted by the loss of electricity, internet and transportation.
At its peak, hundreds of people were coming to the distribution center. But county officials say it officially closed as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 22.
The volunteers running the center were told Sunday they had to “get rid of everything” and be out by Wednesday. They say they received no explanation why or who ordered it.
“When I showed up on Sunday I was just told that we had to stop rationing (supplies) and give them away, we were being shut down,” said one volunteer who had been with the center since the start and wished not to be identified. “The not-knowing has been hard.”
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said he did not know why the distribution center at Nāpili Plaza was being closed.
“They may want to open it up for the stores. Maybe the needs have changed,” he said Monday.
When asked if it was a Maui County decision, Bissen said, “Oh, no.”
But added: “I am sure if it was it was in conjunction with the landowner who let us go in there to begin with. A lot of it depends on where the needs are. If they are sending more things to Nāpili Park or Honokōwai. There are only two county-run ones, but we make all of our stuff available to the other pods. If they need stuff they can come and get it.”
Alexander & Baldwin, owner of Nāpili Plaza, declined to comment, referring questions on Wednesday to the Maui Fire Department.
In a news release update on Tuesday, county officials say the consolidation shifts come because electricity and internet connectivity continue to be restored in fire-affected areas, and community-organized efforts are pivoting to long-term aid.
The Nāpili Plaza distribution center started organically with a group of retired and current firefighters who lived in the area wanting to do something, retired Maui fire battalion chief Luis Romero said.
The donations being left at West Maui fire stations were relocated to Nāpili Plaza, where it was easier for people in the area to get there on foot. Many were without cars and the main roads into the area were closed.
About 20 fire fighters – including those from other Hawaiian islands – worked in shifts at the Plaza that operated around the clock at the start, Romero said.
“Right now, to my estimation, 18 to 20,” he said. “Retired firefighters and still active fire fighters from Kauaʻi, Big Island and Oʻahu. We have the knowledge and the training and experience here.”
The Nāpili Plaza distribution donated supplies also have been shared with people at Nāpili Park and the Lahaina Gateway distribution center.
The Nāpili Plaza distribution center became a hub for the community, a place for people who wanted to volunteer to find a place. Or, being “volunteered” a place.
Robin Vega, a real estate agent, has lived in the area for 22 years. In the aftermath of the fire, she wanted to do something to help. Her assistant told her that there was a need for carrying bags at the center. So she brought what she had, more than 200 bags branded with her company logo.
“While I was there, I said that I would like to help,” Vega recalled. “One of the firefighters told me: ‘You look like a nice person. Join us.’ And so I started working there, 12-hour days.”
At first donations were from local people – clothes and water. Farmers in the community stripped fruit trees, bringing mangoes, papaya and other produce. When the road was reopened, larger donations were delivered, including pallets of water, bread and other supplies from Costco, where one volunteer had a contact.
The people who used the center varied. Families came. So did people to pickup up necessities for family members or others sheltering in their homes. Some were people who had lost the contents of their refrigerators due to the power outages after the fire. And others had lost it all.
“I would see people that lost everything. All they wanted was a hug and a roll of toilet paper,” Vega said… “And it was heartbreaking.”
It was also a place for information – where people posted flyers for accommodation offers, community prayers and the missing, including Joseph “Lomsey” Lara and Rafael “Raffy” Imperial.
Members of the community who are still in need of assistance are being redirected to the following county-facilitated centers.
- Lahaina Gateway Center (Monday, Wednesday & Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Resource distribution. Mobile health vehicle providing first aid, pediatric services and pharmacy courier services
- Hyatt Regency Maui in Kāʻanapali: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. First Aid Station providing first aid and pharmacy courier services through Saturday, Aug. 26
- Queen Kaʻahumanu Center in Kahului: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Resource distribution. Accepting donations of non-perishable food, bottled water, and hygiene products (no clothes) at the Kane Street entrance.
Maui Now reporter Cammy Clark contributed to this story.