Maui Fire Lawyers – Maui’s Filipino Community Finds Help, Comfort At Resource Fair

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM Arlina Agbayani, from the Filipino Chamber of Commerce Foundation, embraced Maui artist Philip Sabado on Saturday at the Hawak Kamay (Hand in Hand) Filipino Resource Fair at the Lahaina Civic Cente

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

Arlina Agbayani, from the Filipino Chamber of Commerce Foundation, embraced Maui artist Philip Sabado on Saturday at the Hawak Kamay (Hand in Hand) Filipino Resource Fair at the Lahaina Civic Cente

Maui’s Filipino community — drawn closer together by the death and devastation wrought by the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire — flocked to the Lahaina Civic Center on Saturday to learn about the disaster relief and recovery resources available to them but also to celebrate their culture and one another.

Organizers said 2,750 people attended the Hawak Kamay (Hand in Hand) Filipino Resource Fair, which coincided with regular hours for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Recovery Center that has been operating out of the civic center gymnasium.

So along with the American Red Cross and a host of federal, state and nongovernmental agencies that are normally available from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily to help wildfire victims, approximately 50 other groups were on hand. There was an area for keiki arts and crafts and rows of tables providing information from health care providers and insurers, social service agencies, churches and other charities, ILWU Local 142, the Hawai‘i Filipino Lawyers Association and many more resources.

Attendees were able to check on unemployment benefits, get replacement passports and vital records, and pick up clothing, diapers and other goods, as well as personal protective equipment. Outside, there was cause for celebration when several dozen people were sworn in as U.S. citizens, having previously completed the application process.

“Astonishing” is how FEMA spokesperson Patrick Boland described the turnout. Having arrived from the mainland a few weeks earlier to support wildfire relief and recovery efforts, Boland said he was unaware of the size of the Filipino community in Lahaina — nearly 40% of the population, according to census data.

“It will boost so many other services here, not just FEMA. This is really where the Filipino community came together in a big way,” he said. “We’ve tried to do a lot of outreach with the Filipino community but it’s a little bit of a challenge because people have been hesitant to come in.”

FEMA already has distributed $26 million in grants to more than 5,500 survivors of the Maui wildfires, while almost $80 million in Small Business Administration loans have been given to nearly 370 households.

Susie Berardy, president of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i, one of the resource fair organizers, said the event is an example of “what we call in the Philippines ‘bayanihan’ — to work together for the bene- fit of our community. Even if we are from Honolulu, as a whole group what happens in other islands affects us because, after all, we are all living in Hawaii, which we love so very much.”

Kit Furukawa of the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce, another of the organizers along with the Philippine Consulate, said that despite the festive atmosphere Saturday, many Filipino residents who suffered losses in the wildfire are still in “life-preserving” mode and in dire need of financial help to buy food and other necessities.

“What we’ve proven here is, please give us some attention. I want everyone’s eyes to see all the lines outside — folks waiting in the sun — and for the FEMA folks here seeing there’s a crowd here.”

Furukawa said she is pushing for Filipino resource organizations like hers to be included when funding is doled out by relief agencies and philanthropic causes such as the Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund, which at last report had grown to more than $120 million.

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