Joni Poland was unemployed, pregnant, and living with her small family in a bedroom at a relative’s home.
The year started out “really rough for us,” she said.
Then it got worse.
The house they were in was suddenly put up for sale and there was no time to find a place they could afford. Faced with homelessness, she and boyfriend Keka Doi-Toilolo entered a Waianae transitional shelter. Then he got really sick and needed surgery, she said. For months he was too weak to help her take care of their newborn daughter and their toddler.
Things are a lot better now that Poland has a job, but buying Christmas presents would break their budget. The couple also has four other young children from previous relationships who live with their other parent.
They are among more than 500 needy families that Helping Hands Hawaii will assist this year through its annual Adopt A Family Program, hoping to brighten the holidays with a special Christmas dinner and a few extras from Santa. In partnership, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Good Neighbor Fund drive launches today to encourage the public to donate money, clothes, household goods or other items requested by the families.
Last year’s GNF drive raised more than $120,000 for holiday items and stretched throughout 2016 to help the needy pay rent, utilities and provide other necessities. Readers may adopt any family or individual featured in stories running every Sunday until Christmas.
Poland said her family couldn’t afford to celebrate last Christmas.
They had just moved out of a house infested with roaches and rats, and were squeezed into one bedroom at Doi-Toilolo’s grandmother’s house. Her boyfriend was also involved in a custody battle for his two children, and “it was hard for everybody.” In April they moved into the Ohana Ola O Kahumana Waianae Transitional Housing, where they are taking steps to get into a more permanent residence.
First to Work, a state Department of Human Services program, helped Poland graduate from nursing school last year. It also helped her find a job and obtain childcare through the nonprofit Parents And Children Together. “They built the foundation” for a better life, she added.
As soon as her daughters entered PACT this summer, she was able to start her job as an optometry receptionist in September.
She looks back on their struggles “as a blessing now, ’cause it gave me the (reason) to strive and work hard and land a good, stable job for my family. … It pushed us to be better for ourselves.”
Her boyfriend is unable to work because he needs regular dialysis, and his health is unpredictable. He was in the hospital for two weeks for an infection in his lungs, and was extremely drained for almost three months after an operation. “I was a single parent for a long time,” she said. “They (the kids) were younger, too, and required a lot more attention. It was really hard.”
But now he’s back to normal, and “somehow, some way, we manage to make it every month. My job has helped a lot.”
The family has requested kitchen supplies, and household and toiletry items like laundry detergent and shampoo. Their 7-month-old girl could use a stroller, baby clothing and eating utensils; their 2-year-old daughter needs clothing, and asked for a kitchen play set. Their other children — two boys and two girls, ages 5 through 9 — need clothing and shoes.