With beaming faces, three small children scampered off in different directions throughout the department store, grabbing whatever caught their eyes and yelling, “I want this one!”
Maiky, 7, jumped on a rocking horse right away, and his sister Nourita, 6, grabbed a Barbie doll that she’d been wishing for, while Marky, 2, couldn’t decide what dress was the prettiest. They were the proverbial kids in a candy store, overwhelmed by the stuff that dreams are made of while shopping Tuesday at Ross Dress for Less in Kapolei.
The shopping frenzy started when Kawika Freitas called out, “Come on! Let’s spend!” with an arm gesture akin to waving the magic wand that made it all possible. He had $500 in his pocket, raised by his volleyball friends this month to enable a needy family to go on a Christmas shopping spree.
Freitas, president of the Hawaii Beach Volleyball Association, chose this family of six from a list of hundreds being assisted by Helping Hands Hawai‘i through the Adopt A Family program. The annual Christmas program is supported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s annual Good Neighbor Fund drive so people struggling to get back on track can receive a special holiday dinner, needed items and a few extras from Santa. Readers may “adopt” a family or individual, or just donate to the general fund. The most requested items are clothing and shoes, household items and popular toys. Information on how to donate is available next to this article.
Freitas said the HBVA, which has about 100 members, held a volleyball tournament Dec. 5 with its corporate sponsors at Queen’s Surf Beach in Waikiki. “We try to do something every year” to benefit other nonprofits, he said.
His wife, Christine, came along on the Ross trip to help search for the right sizes in shoes and clothes, and their little girl Kawena got into the act, picking out her own favorites.
In the thick of it all, Freitas said, “It’s awesome! It makes me feel great! I love it when I see kids running around, all excited and happy. It’s amazing that they’re so happy just to get a pair of shoes. It’s not like I’m buying them the fanciest toy. They’re buying necessities and they’re happy about that.”
The cost of everything came up to about $511, said Kelly Asinsin, the case manager for the Micronesian family assisted by the HBVA-raised funds.
The family moved from Chuuk almost three years ago; the parents of four children, including a baby girl, didn’t want to publicize their last name because of their embarrassment about accepting charity, Asinsin said. “I had a hard time getting her (the mother) to agree to it because she was ashamed.”
Asinsin has worked with the family at the Ulu Ke Kukui transitional shelter in Maili for the past eight months, and recommended them for the Adopt A Family program because “they show potential.”
“They’re a very grateful family, and I believe that they will succeed, they will get permanent housing, and that they will overcome everything that they’re currently going through,” she said.
More than a year ago, the family was living with relatives, who evicted them, Asinsin said. They ended up living on the beach for six months before entering an emergency shelter. The parents are not fluent English speakers, which has been a barrier to employment.
The father has been able to find only a part-time job as a custodian, and is trying to improve his English through an education program for the homeless. The mother bears the brunt of the stress that comes with taking care of an infant born with medical problems, Asinsin said.
After filling several shopping bags for the children, the parents were “very, very thankful,” Asinsin said, adding, “The kids were excited — they wanted to open everything and use the new clothes right away — because they don’t (usually) get to shop like this. I would say the family was blessed.” The mother plans to wrap some of the clothes, shoes and backpacks they picked out, and make them wait for Christmas to open their presents, Asinsin said.
Freitas said, “Growing up — I’m from Hilo — you see other kids that have had hard times when their backpacks are broken or they don’t have a backpack” and they lack many basic necessities. “I’m very fortunate that my parents busted their butts to give me what I needed.”
“So now I see kids going through that (hard times), and I’m in a situation where I’m able to give back, and I feel it’s only right. … Being a father now, I can’t imagine not being able to provide for my kids. It would be devastating. So any little help I think we can do, we should do it as a community,” he said.