Local residents push forward amidst chaos
Kaipo Kekona said he was at his farm, the Kuʻia Agricultural Education Center, when the fires broke out.
“I could see the flames from where I was,” he said.
While his farm survived, he witnessed as his community went up in smoke.
As a president for Hawaiʻi Farmers Union United, it’s been his mission to help build up sustainability in his hometown. During COVID-19, he helped to build the Maui Food Hub to support local farmers and connect residents with food grown in their own back yard.
Since the Aug. 8 fire, those same food hubs across the state are now giving back and pouring in support for Lahaina.
Kekona said while the West side of Maui may be in chaos, the community came together, setting up supply distribution stations following the fire. He discussed the effort at the site established by his father-in-law, Ke’eaumoku Kapu.
Seeing the community come together has been inspiring, he said, but not surprising.
“It’s kind of like we have to,” he said.
“Hawaiʻi does that. We get a challenge presented to us and we respond instantly. We’re so small we don’t have the luxury to have someone else be responsible for that,” he said.
And he’s not alone in his thinking. Since the unexpected tragedy, various community checkpoints have popped up in West Maui, from the Lahaina Gateway, to Honokōwai Beach Park, Pōhaku “S-Turns” Beach Park, Kahana and Nāpili Plaza (now closed). All throughout the west side of the islands, residents and volunteers are teaming up to get supplies and support to those who need it.
And sometimes, that support is as simple as grieving together.
Lulu Hernandez was hanging out at Honokōwai Beach Park a week after the fire, sorting through donated clothes. Hernandez was one of the hundreds of people who was impacted by the tragedy, but her home survived while many of her neighbors’ homes did not.
She said while she still has her home, she feels better being in Honokōwai.
“I chose to be here because it’s too sad. I’m staying with my daughter. It’s better here,” she said about the community checkpoint.
From food kitchens to phone charging stations, medical support, and even hair stylists, the community is uplifting one another during this time.
Jim Frasher has worked at the Farmer’s Market in Honokōwai for 13 years. He said he was shocked by what happened.
“Everybody else took it for granted for the fire situation because we had it so many years like this. We’d have a smokey moment or two, but it was something you would just expect to blow over,” he said.
While it has been a difficult time for the community, he said those around are doing their best to keep each other’s spirits high.
“You can tell everybody over here at the park have been helping out quite a bit,” he said.