comscore Spirit of season lives in Hawaii throughout year
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Spirit of season lives in Hawaii throughout year

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    In November, the cast and crew of "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" prepared and served Thanksgiving dinner for 250 people at the Institute for Human Services in Honolulu.

It is Christmas Day on the sidewalks, too.

And in tarpaulin villages and shelter cubicles and broken down station wagons.

It is Christmas Day for the shut-in senior, the family whose dinner will come from a can and the child without presents.

It has been said that the message of Christmas is that no one is alone. As a tough year draws to a close in the islands, it might be more important than ever to remember that.

While most of us are blessed to live in Hawaii — lucky in life and work and family, privileged to call home this place of beauty and tolerance — more and more people across the state are struggling.

Some, as always, have written their own sad stories through bad choices. Others are products of dysfunction and abuse. It is easy to dismiss them, but like Ignorance and Want, the emaciated boy and girl huddled beneath the robe of the Spirit of Christmas Present, we do so at our own peril.

Take a closer look, too, because the face of poverty in Hawaii is changing — and now might even be recognizable. Social service advocates are seeing larger numbers of working people who are teetering on the brink, forced to eat into savings or retirements after losing jobs or having their wages or hours cut. Some of them have worked, paid bills and provided for their families for years. Too many are now one paycheck away from personal disaster.

The statistics can be frightening. In 2009, poverty in Hawaii rose to 12.5 percent — with more than 156,000 people below the poverty line. For a single person, that was earnings of $12,460 or less; for a family of four, it was $25,360. Almost 40 percent of Hawaii households earned less than $50,000 in 2009. Even worse, 19 percent of Hawaii’s children — almost one in five — were living in poverty, up 5 percent from 2008.

Need is everywhere, on every island. The recession might be over, but recovery will take time. The outlook for work remains bleak.

Even though Hawaii’s unemployment rate is consistently lower than the mainland’s, underemployment is a bigger issue as many families must rely on two or even three jobs to make ends meet.

Fortunately, Hawaii has always known how to keep Christmas well. That’s because it isn’t seasonal here; it is year-round. The notion of an isolated population as an extended family that gives unconditionally and cares for its own, a kind of shared humanity, has always been at the heart of what makes this place so special.

Churches, food pantries, shelters and social-service agencies all need help. They are accepting food, clothing, money, volunteer time.

Whatever you have to give, whatever you can share, will go to good use and be greatly appreciated.

Faith, hope and charity? We call it ohana and aloha.


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