Tulong For Lahaina® Fund Launched

Tulong For Lahaina® Fund Launched

Alfredo G. Evangelista | Assistant Editor

Tulong means help in the Tagalog and Ilokano languages,” said Melen Agcolicol, president of Binhi at Ani in announcing the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund. “And Binhi at Ani wanted to create a fund to help our kababayans, our fellow Filipinos, which comprise at least forty percent of Lahaina town.”

There are many sad stories to tell:

An elderly woman barely escaped by taking refuge on the sea wall; her husband unfortunately perished.

An elderly man, who built a small nest egg, lost everything and almost lost his life when he initially refused to evacuate.

A woman who lost her husband a month before the fire planned to return to the Philippines after selling her home. She escaped the fire but the home is now gone.

A veteran hopes to find and recover the paw print and ashes of his dog who died a couple of years prior to the fire. His dog helped him survive his PTSD.

A family pooled their assets and started a business just after the pandemic. Their new business was destroyed as well as the homes of several family members.

“These stories of our Filipino community members broke our hearts,” explains Agcolicol. As the only Filipino community center on Maui, Binhi at Ani’s Board of Directors and its legions of volunteers initially prepared food for those in shelters, first responders, and those who were housing affected family members. “When the national agencies arrived, Binhi at Ani surveyed what the needs would be and how best to address them,” she said.

Lt Governor Sylvia Luke speaks with Binhi at Ani president Melen Agcolicol
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista

“We noticed many organizations, including some Filipino organizations, rushed to fund raise, many of them had no plan—they did not disclose where the funds would go and how the funds would get to those affected the most,” Agcolicol observed.

“So Binhi at Ani developed a plan where funds ($750) would be awarded to those who 1) as a homeowner, lost their principal place of residence; or 2) as a business owner, lost their business in a brick-and-mortar setting; or 3) lost an immediate family member,” stated Agcolicol.

An application was developed and translated into Ilokano, Tagalog and Visayan, with a deadline of September 30, with the initial distributions tentatively set for October 15. A review committee—independent from the Binhi at Ani Board of Directors—will review each application. If there is a denial, there is a review process.

According to Binhi at Ani, an applicant can qualify for only one category. The number of awards will be based on the amount of donations received. If more qualified applicants apply than there are funds available, it will be based on a first come, first served basis. Depending on funds received, applications received after the due date may be considered.

“We’ve already received over three hundred applications,” said Agcolicol. “So, we need to raise funds.”

One hundred percent tax deductible donations can be made in a number of ways. Checks payable to Binhi at Ani can be mailed to 780 Onehe‘e Avenue, Kahului, Hawai‘i 96732. Another way to donate is through Paypal via Binhi at Ani’s website: https://binhiatani.org/donate/. A QR code (See QR Code)

was also developed to assist the computer savvy donors.

Many individuals and organizations have begun to assist. Two of the first organizations to donate were the Filipino Business Womens Association and the Filipino Womens Civic Club Foundation. “When the Lahaina fires happened, we immediately wanted to help,” said Cecilia Villafuerte who is active in both organizations. “There were many organizations asking for donations. It was important to us that 100 percent of our donation will go directly to the victims of Filipino ancestry. We felt Binhi at Ani was the right organization which will implement what they promised.”

Businesses on O‘ahu who held fundraisers have begun to donate to the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund. Mellissa Butuyan Cedillo, who owns Elena’s with her brother Richard Butuyan, explained why they decided to donate to the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund. “Maui holds a special place in our hearts. We opened Elena’s Maui in the early 2000s. Although it was a short duration that we served our Maui community, we still feel connected to the locals. When we heard about the many families affected by the fires, it broke our hearts and we felt we needed to help them right away. That week our Food Truck serviced Downtown Honolulu with all sales going directly to the families. Upon hearing that Binhi at Ani was offering a program giving directly to families, we decided to donate our sales to them—$4,500 to help six families.”

Elena’s Filipino food business rallied to help in raising funds for the victims of the Lahaina fires. These funds will be donated through Tulong for Lahaina®.
Photo courtesy Elena’s Restaurant

With over three hundred applicants already received, Binhi at Ani has increased its promotional activities, including complimentary full-page ads in this newspaper, The Fil-Am Courier on O‘ahu and the Hawai‘i Filipino Chronicle also on O‘ahu. Prominent members of the Filipino community who have lent their names and photos to the cause include former Governor Benjamin Cayetano, Retired Justice Simeon R. Acoba, Jr., Retired State Representative Felipe “Jun” Abinsay, Jr., labor leader Peter Ganaban and business leaders Robin Campaniano, Marivic Dar, Eddie Flores and Sherry Menor-McNamara, amongst others.

“Through the years, members of the Filipino community in the State of Hawaii participated in many humanitarian projects to ease the pain of families who lost their loved ones, their means of livelihood including their housing needs due to various types of unforeseen events,” said Abinsay. He noted the Hawai‘i Filipino community came together to support the calamities caused by Mt. Pinatubo, typhoons in the Philippines and Guam, hurricane Katrina and the Japan tsunami. “Cognizant of the inner satisfaction of being personally involved in the fundraising and proper coordination of the distribution of funds raised to help the needy, in any form, I am very much in support to lend a hand on the fundraising effort of Tulong for Lahaina® spearheaded by community volunteers on Maui. Being coordinated by Binhi At Ani Filipino Community Center which has a tax exempt status including the transparency as to how funds are properly received and distributed by qualified recipients, I hope and pray that prospective donors particularly from our kababayans will once again exemplify the spirit of giving to our neighbors who are urgently in need of our Bayanihan spirit as we demonstrated in the past time and time again.”

Cecilia Villafurete presents two of the first checks for the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund
Photo courtesy Alfredo Evangelista

Abinsay is also in the midst of organizing a golf tournament to raise even more funds and has even called his fellow members of the Ilocos Surian Association to donate.

Others, such as Glorey McCaleb of the McCaleb Foundation are utilizing their existing events to fundraise. The McCaleb Foundation will donate a portion of the proceeds of its concert on September 22 to the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund. “Due to my cancer, I have experienced the brink of death and life so I’m giving from my heart because I know how it feels to face death,” says McCaleb. “Although it is nothing compared to what the people of Lahaina have lost, from the distance, this is the only way I can help to assist our kababayan financially.”

Emme Tomimbang Burns is shown here in this old photo with her grandpa and dad.
Photo courtesy Emme Tomimbang Burns

Emme Tomimbang Burns, a pioneer in Hawai‘i’s television industry as a reporter who eventually produced and hosted her own television show called Emme’s Island Moments, recalls her moments in Lahaina. “During my early tv years, I would fly to Maui—to interview celebrities like George Benson, Kenny Loggins, Jim Messina and Jim Nabors. I loved the restaurants, shops (vintage and ultra chic) and the simple but electrifying energy of the town. I even saw Elton John at the Blue Max! The Lahaina fires were an unspeakable tragic moment in our island history. Lost and gone is the local—yet Hollywood celebrity town—that all came to love and enjoy. Everyone loved the Aloha Spirit—it became home to many.”

But beyond her association with Lahaina as a television star, Lahaina has a special place in her heart. “I kept hearing about Mill Camp—and it brought back forgotten memories my Dad shared. Tommy Tomimbang lived there and worked at the Lahaina plantation when he first arrived here in the late ’30s. Now, in his memory and for all the Island Moments I experienced in Lahaina, I support the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund. I am here especially for the multi-generational Filipinos who died there and those they left behind. The Filipino community was the early labor workforce of Lahaina town and today the modern-day plantation workers are the hotel and resort employees—many of whom are displaced. I ask for your support to tulong this important and critical endeavor.”

Disclosure: Alfredo G. Evangelista is the volunteer Legal Counsel for Binhi at Ani which is coordinating the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund.