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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘These are our ohana’: Spokane business owners collect donations for Maui fire victims

Doug Freed, right, hands donations for the Maui fire victims to volunteer Rob Deyo during a drive-thru drop off in Browns Park on Tuesday. Local businesses organized the drive-thru fundraiser for the Hawaiian island of Maui and town of Lahaina.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As people in Lahaina, Hawaii, deal with loss and destruction from wildland fires, Spokane business owners are soliciting donations to help.

Five businesses and organizations – Pono Lei, which sells leis for special events; Hapa Catering; Kokua Beach Volleyball Club; Pacific Islanders Association; and Veda Lux – are leading the effort.

Many of the business owners have a connection to Hawaii, mostly coming from Oahu, including the owner of Pono Lei, Leanne Esperas.

“These are our ohana. Almost everybody here has connections to Hawaii, and they’re either our local friends and family,” Esperas said. “We all have businesses and we all, you know, have connections, and when you feel helpless and you don’t know what to do, then you just got to try to do something yourself and think about what you can do.”

News of the fires was heartbreaking for those helping with donations.

“We have a really wonderful and beautiful Pacific Islander and Polynesian population here,” Esperas said. “And so, a lot of people here wanted to rally together.”

Summer Hightower, owner of Veda Lux, already has collected donations and is continuing to do so. She raised $1,204 when she hosted a fundraiser on Friday, according to a Facebook post from Veda Lux.

“Our work here is far from done. We are still collecting donations all week,” Hightower said in her Facebook post.

The five businesses hosted the first donation drive Tuesday at Browns Park at 32nd Avenue and South Pines Road in Spokane Valley.

By around 3 p.m., they had collected about a truckload of items at the park.

Though the sun was scorching with temperatures above 100 degrees, business owners patiently waited – with misters and water to help stay cool – for donations.

“It’s very emotional to see,” Esperas said. “It took down families, devastated with little to no warning, without tools and a lot of confusion.”

There also will be a donation drive Thursday at Veda Lux, which sells jewelry and vintage items at 1106 S. Perry St., from 1 -7 p.m.

Esperas encourages people who can’t donate items to give to foundations raising funds.

Following such catastrophic loss, many people in Maui are lacking basic supplies.

“When you think of Maui essentials, think of essentials and what you would need,” Esperas said. “They’re anticipating three more storms, so you know, toothbrush, toothpaste, they need diapers, wipes, toiletries, feminine hygiene, flashlights, tarps, that kind of stuff.”

The businesses are grateful for the support Spokane residents have shown for the people suffering in Maui.

“It’s been so heartwarming to hear from so many people. It’s been really great, and anything helps,” Esperas said.

The local businesses are working with Alaska Airlines to transit the supplies to Maui.

“One of our friends here from Maui works for Alaska Airlines,” Esperas said. “So, we are working directly with her, and they are picking up supplies at the airport.”

According to the Facebook post, the leaders of the effort are looking for more help to transport the donated items.

“Things are changing rapidly, day-by-day, minute-by-minute,” Esperas said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with the supply chain, but the donations will get there.”

Samantha Fuller's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.