A single act of kindness was all that was needed to lift the spirits of hundreds of homeless keiki and their families on the Waianae Coast who were visited on Christmas by a Hawaiian Santa bearing gifts, toiletries and other basic necessities.
Valoha Giving Movement, a nonprofit that collected 4,000 donated toys this season, provided gifts to families including 36 people living at Cedar Farms in Waianae, a drug-free safe zone for people who are down on their luck, most of whom live in tents on a dirt road on the property for $25 per month per adult. The group shares a single portable toilet and makeshift portable shower that they put up and take down every day.
“I’m happy,” said 12-year-old Cedar Farms resident Ronsen Moniz, whose bounty included a scooter, shoes and backpack from donors. In return, he used a gift card he received as a present to buy his mother, Jojo Thornton, a necklace and pendant for Christmas.
That is the hope for Valoha, the nonprofit started two years ago by Christina Bush after losing her job, going into depression and then finding an opportunity to spread aloha to those in need.
The group has since grown to 9,000 volunteers, many of whom helped deliver gifts this holiday season.
Besides Waianae, Valoha distributed gifts to Waipahu, Ewa Beach, Kalihi and Barbers Point.
“I’ve never seen so many needy kids in my life,” said volunteer Michael Ferreira. “All year long they’ve lost hope. This gives them hope. It teaches them, too, how to give so that when they get older they learn … to give back.”
Cedar Farms resident Stacia Martin says the help is much appreciated, especially during this time of year.
“Majority of us work. We’re trying with whatever job we have. Most of the time our job … is not enough to cover rentals out there nowadays because it’s so high,” she said. “Honestly, when they do come it’s the time that we actually need ’em. We’re short on money already. Even though we live in tents, we still get bills we got to pay. It makes our day happier knowing that someone out there cares for us and actually recognizes that we are up here, too.”
Thornton, 39, who has eight children ranging in age from 12 to 25, has been living at the farm for more than three years after being evicted from a low-income housing project down the road.
The fact that people know that “we’re human beings and we need help, too, (makes a difference) instead of labeling us as homeless people with drug problems,” she said.
“Majority of the families that are houseless — I going call them houseless cause we’re not homeless, Hawaii is our home — majority is just … we having hard time,” she said.
Thornton, a single parent who was working three jobs but still couldn’t make ends meet, is working to become self-sufficient to eventually move her family out of Cedar Farms and into permanent housing.
“That’s what I’m hoping we going be doing is moving forward. That way other families that need help can move to the farm and get the help that we had,” she said. “It is a blessing to have everybody that comes out to help each and every one of us.”
State Rep. Cedric Gates (D, Waianae-Makaha-Makua), who partnered with Valoha for his second annual west-side toy drive, said helping uplift a needy family on Christmas gives him great purpose.
“There’s so many underserved keiki out here on our coastline. Giving them a simple gift makes a huge difference,” he said. “It lets them know people out there care about them and want the best for them. I’m born and raised out here, so I look at these kids and I see myself. I could’ve been these kids right here in these communities getting these toys, and I know how I would feel if I got one from just a random act of kindness. It really brings joy to my heart.”