Jackie Foster and Elizabeth Sirois were in South Dakota at the “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally” with Street Bikers United when their phones began to blow up with news about the devastating wildfires back home.
“We knew we had to do something when we got back,” Foster said.
In less than a month, and with the help of about 50 volunteers and the community, they have turned vacant retail space at the Azeka Shopping Center into what looks like a children’s boutique.
The space which formerly was the Kīhei Radio Shack now is filled with school supplies, clothes, toys, car seats, baby food and hundreds of other items catering to newborns up to teenagers. Many of the items are new. All are donated. None have price tags.
This is the home of the Lahaina Keiki Relief Fund.
The organization that helps the youngest of the wildfire survivors was quickly created on the fly by operating under Street Bikers United’s existing nonprofit, Toy Parade Inc., which was created in the 1980s when the club started helping the Salvation Army with the Toys for Tots Christmas drives.
Street Bikers United, a group that advocates for bikers’ rights in Hawaiʻi, has been helping children on Maui year-round for decades. Its charity work also includes conducting backpack drives in the Spring and Thanksgiving turkey giveaways. The nonprofit also donates to Make-A-Wish and the Pacific Cancer Foundation Children’s Fund.
As Foster and Sirois were explaining how the children’s distribution hub was put together, Diane Hamlin of Seattle walked in with cash to donate. Before she could put it into a donation jar, couple Arielle Deversterre and Joseph Campbell also walked in, but they were looking for help and did not realize it was a place catering to children’s needs.
Hamlin handed them her cash and Deversterre broke down in tears, choking the words: “It means everything. Thank you.”
The couple told their harrowing story of escaping the fire. They had been at Campbell’s house cooking pasta when they could see flames at a neighbor’s house. They mustered smiles when explaining they covered the pasta, thinking they would be back in a few hours to eat it.
Both of their residences burned to the ground. Both lost everything, although Campbell was able to save his 18-year-old cat Puka, or Puka “the monster” if you ask Deversterre.
Hamlin handed them another $100 bill after seeing how much the money meant to them.
“Thank you. Thank you. You donʻt have to do this,” Devesterre said. “The community has been so amazing through all this. You have no idea.”
Sirois teared up while watching the interaction: “It’s always emotional in here. We just feel for everybody who has lost.”
And with thousands of people displaced by the deadly Aug. 8 fires, many of whom have lost everything, there has never been a more important time to help keiki on Maui. In addition to the losses, a study just came out by LendingTree that found Hawaiʻi was the most expensive state to raise a child, with basic annual expenses to raise a small child at $30,506.
While still in South Dakota, Sirois and others in the bike club used their own money to begin ordering children’s goods from Amazon, including backpacks, that they knew would be essentials. Within a couple of weeks, the Lahaina Keiki Relief Fund had distributed more than 1,000 filled backpacks to children affected by the fires.
“When I came home there were thousands of dollars of items already waiting at my house,” Sirois said. “Everybody was collecting. I had school supplies, diapers, toothbrushes, toothpaste. Clothes were being sent.”
Sirios said people also donated cash, which in the early days were distributed in $500 amounts to affected families.
Right after the fires, donations also were pouring into Nalu’s South Shore Grill, owned by longtime Maui philathropist Ron Panzo who also is a member of Street Bikers United.
Panzo quickly organized a concert fundraiser at his restaurant, also in the Azeka Shopping Center. More than $40,000 was raised for the Lahaina Keiki Relief Fund, and the donations keep coming, with more than $90,000 to the fund, Foster said.
Panzo also nailed down the retail space with a phone call to Evelyn Long, who manages the shopping center.
“Evelyn gave us this giant spot, which is a dream,” Foster said.
The place was painted in four hours with donated paint by Sherwin Williams and donated labor by painter Tim Rucynski and his crew.
About 50 volunteers have helped put the place together over the past three weeks. Sirois said it officially will open later this week, but it’s available now for anyone walking in and needing help.
“It’s all been a community effort,” she said. “We put out the word we needed mirrors, some friends of ours went out and got mirrors. We said on Facebook we needed racks, hangars. We got them. People walk in and say, ‘What do you need?’ We tell them, and they come back with what we need.”
The volunteers have spent endless hours sorting through thousands of items, organizing them by kinds, sizes and age groups. They are trying to make sure it is fully stocked with all sizes. They even take home donated clothes that need to be washed, bringing them back clean and smelling good.
The volunteers also help to make sure people can find the right sizes or items they need.
On Wednesday, Southwest flight attendants who flew into Maui and helped fill 300 backpacks with school supplies that were delivered to Lahaina for elementary and intermediate school students.
Sirois said they also are working to create a play area for kids with a small slide and toys — as soon as they can get all the donations that are bagged and boxed organized and onto shelving.
“We just had huge pallets of stuff brought to us,” she said.
But Sirois said specific items still are needed. Now, they include:
- Swim trunks for young boys and teens
- Swimsuits for girls
- Swimsuits for babies
- Boys shorts, 5T through teens
- Baby toiletries, sunscreen
- Diaper bags
- Bathtubs for babies
- Strollers and car seats
Sirois said when people come in and walk out with needed items they are so grateful.
“It warms our hearts,” she said. “You just want to give them anything to make them smile.”
With many of the people who lost their homes living in hotels, the parents and others are just taking a few items to get them by. Sirois expects the need will go up once these families start moving into transitional housing.
Then, they will want to start replacing wardrobes, toys and lots of other things their kids lost.
To donate to the Lahaina Keiki Relief Fund:
- Go to the retail space at the former Radio Shack at 1280 S. Kīhei Road in Kīhei
- Send checks to Lahaina Keiki Relief Fund, at P.O. Box 1415, Kīhei, HI 96753
- Use the QR code below, which goes to Amazon where Lahaina Keiki Relief Fund has set up an account with purchased items delivered directly to them.