1 million masks: Big Island benefits from Benioff connections

  • Kona hospital workers in May, 2020, welcome a shipment of masks from billionaire Marc Benioff. (from Benioff’s Twitter page)

A San Francisco tech billionaire with a home on the Kona coast wants to make sure the Big Island doesn’t run out of masks.

Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce Inc., a cloud-computing public company, has arranged for a second major mask donation, this one of a million medical masks to Hawaii County Civil Defense, at an estimated value of $1.9 million. The masks, to be shipped in weekly installments of about 70,000, will be distributed to the public at COVID-19 testing sites and other venues.


Benioff in May donated 54,000 masks to the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation for distribution to hospitals, homeless shelters and firefighters.

The latest donation is coming from the University of California at San Francisco, home of the Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine. The County Council accepted the donation Wednesday.

When quizzed by Council Chairman Aaron Chung, Finance Director Deanna Sako was circumspect about why Hawaii County was getting such a generous donation.

“This is a sizable donation,” Chung said. “It’s not really necessary (to know the benefactor) but I am curious. This is significant.”

Chung asked if other regions were also receiving masks from the university.

“It’s not to every island; it’s not to every state. It’s to us and we’re very thankful,” Sako said, adding that a Big Island resident arranged for the donation.

Mayor Harry Kim has said that Benioff is part of his COVID-19 working group. The philanthropist has provided a wealth of resources, staff and even a work plan as he and the mayor strive to make the Big Island a template for how other communities can not only cope, but get ahead of the pandemic, Kim said.

“What a gift for the people of Hawaii Island,” Kim said. “I told him how fortunate and how grateful I am that he is part of our team … that things he is doing, we could never afford the things he is doing for us.”

But the billionaire doesn’t want publicity, Kim said. He said Benioff told him he has a “cultural and spiritual” connection to the island and he just wants to help.

“This is an islandwide partnership and all he wants is to make this island the safest place in the world,” Kim said. “He said he fell in love with Hawaii.”

A Benioff spokeswoman said Thursday that he would be unable to speak to a reporter because of his busy schedule.

Benioff is a big believer in masks as a defense in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, promoting them often on his Twitter page.


He’s also skeptical that the government is moving in the right direction in opening the state to tourism without sufficient testing and contact tracing. Kim shares those beliefs and said he opposes reopening the island to tourism without “at minimum” a two-test process. Gov. David Ige and Lt. Gov. Josh Green are promoting a single pre-travel test with a sampling of travelers tested after flying.

“Mahalo @MayorHarryKim! The 1 test system proposed by @GovHawaii & @DrJoshGreen will cause more dead Hawaiians & further destruction of the Hawaiian tourism economy,” Benioff said in a tweet Tuesday. “Masks, pre/post arrival testing & real contact tracing. Use Science not Politics.”

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