Wildfire Relief Redoubled Efforts
Maui, known best for its tropical breezes and ocean air, has lately been a destination for charitable support in the wake of this summer’s devastating wildfire.
But REALTOR® Debbie Arakaki has been working to help others in her community since long before the fire destroyed her hometown of Lahaina. In 2015, she began volunteering for the Maui Food Bank motivated by a program that gives hungry children a discreet way to carry food home in backpacks after school. The island faces a persistent food insecurity problem. Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the U.S., with food costs 61% higher than in the rest of the nation, according to the Hawaii State Department of Health.
“It tugged at my heart that children go hungry,” Arakaki says. Now, as a pivotal community leader, she runs food drives, fundraisers and food packing events to support the nonprofit that provides food to some 177 agencies in Maui County. When the food bank needed a new refrigerated truck, Arakaki raised money. During the pandemic, when the 10,000 people served each month jumped to 50,000, she organized virtual fundraisers. Her efforts have translated to more than 1 million meals.
In August, wildfires destroyed 2,000 homes and businesses in her hometown. Four of Arakaki’s six real estate team members lost their homes, as did her daughter. If anything, Arakaki became more driven to serve her community; her home survived and served as a hub of communication for relief efforts. Along with supporting the food bank, which faces unprecedented need, Arakaki and a group of other longtime Maui residents created the Maui Pono Foundation. The mission of the nonprofit is to provide immediate funds to help families and small businesses that lost everything. “We have 500 families in a database already,” says Arakaki. “Recovery and rebuilding will be a marathon and not a sprint.”
Arakaki says she has been moved by the relief efforts of Maui residents, as well as those of people across the United States and the world. “Everyone has been so generous and so caring. We feel so much aloha coming through. It’s been very healing and makes us feel loved.”