Tulong for Lahaina® Fund Raises Over $170,000

Tulong for Lahaina® Fund Raises Over $170,000

Alfredo G. Evangelista | Assistant Editor

I want to thank Binhi at Ani for the tremendous gift and for all that you do for our community. I am truly grateful as I am caretaker of my 90 and 91-year-old parents.

You are appreciated. Thank you for this support for our Filipino community especially immigrant families. My heart is overwhelmed by your generosity.

Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to receive the fund. It is a big help for the family. Thank you for your hard work.

These three comments from Binhi at Ani’s Tulong for Lahaina® Fund grantees reflect the level of appreciation expressed by West Siders.

Grateful Tulong for Lahaina® recipients register to receive their award.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista
The day after the Lahaina fire, Binhi at Ani volunteers prepared plate lunches for those in shelters and first responders.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista

In late August 2023, Binhi at Ani launched the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund. Tulong means help in Tagalog and Ilokano. “During the first few days, Binhi at Ani helped by cooking food for those in shelters, first responders and others who sheltered with their families in Central Maui,” recalls Board President Melen Agcolicol. “After FEMA came in, our Board of Directors discussed what would be Binhi at Ani’s further response to the Lahaina fire. Initially, we thought we would just refer potential donors to the Hawaii Community Foundation and rely on HCF to distribute the funds. But Binhi at Ani expected many Filipinos would not know how to access donations from HCF and HCF would not target our community, which constituted at least forty percent of Lahaina’s residents.”

Agcolicol explained how the Board created an application (including translations in Ilokano, Tagalog and Visayan), outlined criteria, set a grant amount ($750) and fashioned a fair, transparent and straightforward process. By the established deadline of September 30, 2023, 713 fire survivors applied for the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund.

The Tulong for Lahaina® logo was designed by Lawrence Pascua.

To receive a grant, the applicant had to qualify in one of three categories.
1. As a homeowner, lost their principal residence; or
2. As a business owner, lost their business in a brick-and-mortar setting; or
3. Lost an immediate family member.

(An applicant could qualify under only one category and only one application per family or business was processed, regardless of the number of homes or businesses lost or the members of a wrongful death victim’s family.) The Board also determined all funds raised (except for the credit card fees) would be dedicated to direct grants to qualified survivors and not to underwrite fundraising efforts or the operations of Binhi at Ani or other non-profits.

Independent evaluators (non-Binhi at Ani Board members) reviewed each of the 713 applications, including Benjamin Acob, Lisa Aguilar, Levi Aguinaldo, Richelle Aperto, Rowena Niki Baysa, Jenny Bissell, Dulce Butay, Dionie B. Cabias, Katie Coreg, Christine Corpuz, Sheena Garo, Jeannine Miranda, Eva Marie Arconado Mirzai, Bobbie Pagay, Paul Pagay, Forsythe Ramos, Ramel Ramos, Jesse M Rowley, Jr., William Ruidas and Jeanice Santiago. The evaluators checked the records of the County of Maui, the Bureau of Conveyance, and the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to verify basic qualifications. The applicants, if necessary, were also contacted by telephone or email for clarification or additional information.

The Filipino Business Women’s Association and The Filipino Women’s Civic Club Foundation, represented by Cecilia Villafuerte, were among the first organizations to donate.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista
Fr. Alfred Guerrero of Sacred Heart Church in Honolulu delivers a check to Nora Cabanilla-Takushi.
Photo courtesy Nora Cabanilla-Takushi

In the evaluation process, the volunteers qualified 227 of the 713, requiring $170,250 to make awards for each approved application.
To raise the money, Binhi at Ani’s Board reached out to their contacts throughout Maui Nui, other islands and the continental United States.

For seven months, Maui’s Fil-Am Voice printed a full-page complimentary ads. O‘ahu based newspapers Fil-Am Courier and Hawai‘i Filipino Chronicle also plugged the fundraising call, which featured the names and photos of prominent Hawai‘i Filipinos including Felipe Abinsay, Jr., Simeon Acoba, Jr., Edmund Aczon, Amy Agbayani, Vince Bagoyo, Jr., Emme Tomimbang Burns, Robin Campaniano, Benjamin Cayetano, Mary Cordero, Luella Costales, Marivic Dar, Eddie Flores, Peter Ganaban, Savannah Gankiewicz, A.J. Halagao, Gladys Quinto Marrone, Glorey McCaleb, Sherry Menor McNamara and Phil Sabado.

Since then, over 135 individuals, businesses, and organizations donated or pledged over $110,000 to the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund.

The Tulong for Lahaina® Fund full page ad featured many of Hawaii’s prominent Filipinos.
Ad design: Lawrence M. Pascua – Studio Creative Associates

Friends on O‘ahu led by former State Representative Abinsay contacted Binhi at Ani’s Board for permission to raise funds through a golf tournament at the Hoakalei Golf Course in Ewa. The successful Aloha Beer Co. presents Tulong for Lahaina® Fundraising Golf Tournament netted another $40,000.

A Bayanihan for Maui Benefit Concert raised over $7,500 through O‘ahu’s Filipino Community Center.

On Maui, a Zumbathon led by Eva Marie Arconado Mirzai and her team of Zumba instructors brought in over $3,000.

Bayer also contributed $15,000 to Binhi in support of its Lahaina fire activities.

Binhi at Ani held four distributions (October 22, December 3, January 28 and April 7) to the 232 families at Joey’s Kitchen in Nāpili. At the October 22 event, over twenty members of the Ilocos Surian Association of Hawai‘i led by its president Loida Alimboyoguen-Yamamoto and the Vigan Association of Hawai‘i led by its president Teresita Aganon traveled from O‘ahu to observe and participate in the initial distribution. Volunteers from the Lions Club, Filipino teachers working in public schools under a VISA program, and community minded residents provided manual and logistical support.

The golf team of Title Sponsor Aloha Beer Co., led by its owner Steven Sombrero.
Photo: Bengie Arista
Golf Tournament Chair Felipe “Jun” Abinsay, Jr. (2nd from left) with Binhi at Ani president Melen Agcolicol and the first-place team.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista

In addition to the $750 check from the fund, grantee survivors received a gift card, toilet paper and water from the Lions Club, food boxes from Maui Food Bank, plate lunches funded by Nareit Hawaii, comforters from Maui Quilt, pumpkins from Bayer and bentos from L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.

“The recipients were all very thankful for the grant and the other goodies,” said Nora Cabanilla-Takushi, past president of Binhi at Ani and a Lahaina fire survivor herself. “As I checked them in, they expressed their gratitude and those who I knew, hugged me, some with tears in their eyes. It made me proud to be a part of Binhi at Ani’s Tulong for Lahaina® Fund.”

FilCom Center Board Chairperson Edmund Aczon delivers a check to Alfredo Evangelista.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista
Kai Pelayo (center) of Bayer Crop Science Hawaii delivers a check to the Binhi at Ani Board of Directors to support Binhi at Ani’s Lahaina fire activities.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista
The Ilocos Surian Association of Hawaii and the Vigan Association of Hawaii presented two checks to Binhi at Ani.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista

During distribution, Binhi also requested each recipient to complete a short survey, with initial results reported earlier in The Fil-Am Voice. The survey asked questions about the various aid programs, housing, insurance, mortgages, rebuilding, unemployment, language assistance, emotional support and size of household.

All except one homeowner grantee planned to rebuild. Almost all had insurance but not all had mortgage insurance.

A few indicated they needed emotional help/support. None expressed a need for language assistance to apply for any of the offered programs.

The volunteers from Oahu assisted Binhi at Ani’s volunteers in preparing meals as part of the initial Tulong for Lahaina® Fund distribution.
Photo:Alfredo G. Evangelista
Survivors received a check from Binhi at Ani as well as a gift card from the Lions Club.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista
Sannah Evangelista distributes comforters from Maui Quilt to the grantees.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista
Cabanilla-Takushi shares a light moment with the recipients.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista

But other than delays in receiving insurance benefits, housing concerns persisted. While several recipients had taken shelter with relatives, a majority remained housed in hotels. Almost all those still in visitor rooming expressed frustration with the paucity of information from FEMA regarding temporary homes or how long they could stay in their present accommodations unit. Significantly, FEMA’s inability to find residences for large families or pets or in West Maui so their children did not need to transfer schools, left many feeling lost. Of course, those housed in hotels without any kitchens also expressed unhappiness they could not cook and eat their normal dinengdeng.

Each recipient completes a survey from Binhi at Ani.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista
Cabanilla-Takushi and Agcolicol passed out adobo courtesy of Elena’s during the Aloha Beer Co. presents Tulong for Lahaina® Fundraising Golf Tournament.
Photo: Alfredo G. Evangelista

With Phase One of the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund completed, Binhi at Ani understands the work is unfinished. “After the Barrio Fiesta, we will discuss what Phase Two will encompass,” says Agcolicol. “Our Bayanihan Food Distribution will be held in the Lahaina area this November. And Binhi at Ani will continue to rely on Nora to provide us insight with what the Lahaina fire survivors need.”

Assistant Editor Alfredo G. Evangelista serves as Legal Counsel for Binhi at Ani. He traveled to Oahu to receive checks from a number of donors, including the Philippine Cultural Foundation, whose long-time leader is Magdalena Pasion Domingo (left).