PAHOA — Driving into Pahoa Saturday afternoon, it seemed everything was business as usual. People were strolling down the street, a man was hanging a campaign sign, and others were sitting on the sidewalk, casually smoking a cigarette.
However, the red-tinted clouds looming overhead were a stark reminder that residents in the area have been victims of several lava eruptions and poisonous gas emissions for weeks, forcing them to flee their homes. Two shelters have opened for evacuees, providing shelter and necessities. A grassroots group, Pu‘uhonua o Puna has become a hub for donations and information about the lava activities.
“This hub is the community at its finest,” said Pu‘uhonua o Puna volunteer Ashley Kierkiewicz. “We’re going to have information and resources as long as the lava is flowing. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re in it for the long haul.”
And the Puna community is not alone. Kona residents have raised thousands of dollars and delivered truckloads of donations over the past few weeks. Four West Hawaii residents spent their Saturday delivering goods and food to the Pahoa shelter and Pu‘uhonua o Puna.
Brittany Horn, co-owner of Pacific Coffee Research, traveled to Pahoa with Amanda Trusty, artistic director for Kona Dance and Performing Arts. They were accompanied by Brian Webb and Ben Willoughby. Their first stop was the Pahoa shelter run by the Red Cross, where they donated brand new tents, tarps, pillows, air mattresses, solar flashlights and more. They also delivered continental breakfast food items that could feed 375 people.
This is the second time Horn and Trusty have delivered donations to Pahoa. Horn said the experience has been mostly overwhelming.
“To be a supportive member of the community I appreciate I’ve been able to be a part of it,” Horn said. “It’s definitely an eye-opening experience and devastating to see what they’re going through.”
Also at the shelter was Irvin R. Pelton Jr., a barber from Kona. He’s been in Pahoa for a week giving free haircuts to the evacuees.
“I came down here and the need is above and beyond what I thought,” Pelton said.
Not only does he give haircuts, Pelton has helped drive people to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store and to buy shoes.
“Some people told me the other day it’s a band-aid fix,” the barber said. “It’s not really ‘cause there’s ladies and kids I’ve cut five, six days ago are walking around today just happy as luck cause someone’s cutting their hair.”
As of Saturday afternoon, Pelton had worked on close to 100 heads.
“It’s a privilege to do it,” he said. “We don’t want money. Money can’t pay for what we’re doing or the way that it touches them.”
Horn and Trusty’s next stop was Pu‘uhonua o Puna. As soon the Kona residents started unloading the tents and tarps, volunteers expressed how much the items were needed.
“This is exactly what we need,” one volunteer said.
They are not the only west-side neighbors to reach out to Puna.
“I can’t express how much the Kona community has helped us,” said hub volunteer Ke‘ala Martins Keli‘iho‘omalu.
“When we needed help, the Kona community was — boom — there for us.”
Umeke’s brought food. Hotels from the west side donated comforters and pillows. When the initial flows started, people from Kona came to volunteer for days, sleeping in their cars or driving back and forth.
“It’s been overwhelmingly humbling,” Keli‘iho‘omalu said.
Keli‘iho‘omalu is also an evacuee. A resident of Kalapana, she left her home when an earthquake hit the town and there was an unknown threat of a tsunami, which turned out to be unfounded.
“We always have that understanding,” she said. “This is the ‘aina of Pele and where we live – we’re going to get through it together.”
Through cash donations and an online fundraiser, Horn and Trusty raised $5,900. All the money was spent on purchasing items needed by the Puna residents affected by the eruptions.
“We had only planned to do the two weeks, but this is not ending any time soon,” Horn said. “If we can continue to serve we’ll do everything in our power to do that.”
Horn said clothing donations are not needed. People need survival gear.
“We’re really thankful for the support from the community,” she added. “We’re thankful that we’re able to be inspired by the support that comes together.”
Trusty said Kona Trans has partnered with her and Horn to assist them in picking items from their donation sites around town and delivering them to Pahoa. Both have been grateful for the additional assistance.
Trusty also put out a call to all Kona businesses to help the Puna community.
”As small businesses and nonprofits, such as ours, already struggle financially in this town step up to help Puna, we hope that successful businesses and corporations that are thriving here will follow the example and extend a hand,” Trusty said. “We cannot do this alone.”
She added those who have found success on the Big Island have a responsibility to give back.
Horn reiterated the importance of community.
“When you live in the middle of the ocean, it’s real essential that feeling that the community is your support,” she said.
Needs in Puna change on a constant basis. Most needed are tents, tarps and other camping gear. Clothing is not needed. Kona donation sites are located below:
• Pink Mocha Cafe: 73-4976 Kamanu St Suite 101
• Kona Coffee Lounge: 75-170 Hualalai Rd
• Donkey Mill Art Center: 78-6670 Mamalahoa Hwy, Holualoa
• Therapydia Kona Physical Therapy: 78-6831 Alii Dr
• Kona Dance and Performing Arts: 81-973 Haleki‘i St, Kealakekua
To donate to an online fundraiser, visit: https://www.youcaring.com/pahoaemergencyshelters-1182589
To become a volunteer for the Red Cross, visit: http://www.redcross.org/local/hawaii/volunteer/becoming-a-volunteer
Pu‘uhonua o Puna updates its happenings at the hub and the community needs on its Facebook page daily: https://www.facebook.com/puuhonuaopuna.