The backyard is cluttered with chicken coops, a few crowing roosters tethered by the leg, and a barking dog that doesn’t welcome so much company. This is where Malissaann Benitez and husband Randall Alberto usually hang out with their four young children.
It’s too cramped for the kids to play in the two-bedroom home of Benitez’s aunt and uncle in Waianae, where the couple and Benitez’s mother moved several months ago. It’s always a bit chaotic, juggling the constant demands of two babies and two older, active kids, but at least they have a place to stay and family members who are a big help to them, the couple said.
Alberto is nearly blind from diabetes, and is unable to work or take care of the kids by himself. Benitez is plagued by a numbing pain in her leg from back surgery that went awry and got infected with staph. Because of health problems and bureaucratic delays in her government benefits, they fell behind in their rent and lost their place.
"It gets overwhelming and depressing," she said.
Her husband added, "It gets to the point where we just want to give up."
Benitez said: "Every time I feel like giving up, I just look at my children and I know they need me. And I gotta just try and make the best I can out of everything."
With all their burdens, the couple is anxious about not being able to give their children anything for Christmas because of their short funds. Members of the public may "adopt" this family or others in need under Helping Hands Hawaii’s annual Christmas Adopt-a-Family Program.
The Star-Advertiser’s annual Good Neighbor Fund is joining with the program to collect toys, clothing and household items that can be dropped off at Helping Hands’ Community Clearinghouse. Monetary contributions can be made at First Hawaiian Bank branches or mailed in.
Alberto, who has had diabetes all his life, was last able to hold a job doing security work six years ago. Since then "my eyes have been getting worse," he said, and a year ago he was in and out of the emergency room for congestive heart failure.
"I’m very frustrated," he said, referring to his dependency on others, not being able to provide a home for his family, and "especially because I can’t see too good."
"All I can see is images and shadows. I can’t see fine details and I can’t read. I can’t see where I’m walking. Daytime it’s OK. I can check for mail and come back (to the house), but as soon as it comes dark, I can’t see stuff."
This also makes it unsafe for him to "watch" the kids by himself, especially their youngest, an 11-month-old daughter. His blindness made it difficult for Alberto to get on and off the bus with their children, their usual mode of transportation until they got a used van on Craigslist recently. Their main concern is finding a place of their own, but don’t know how to apply for public housing, Benitez said.
This Christmas will actually be a lot better than the last, when they couldn’t afford electricity for nine months while living on their own, she said.
"It was kind of heartbreaking for me, raising my kids, but I did manage to buy a real Christmas tree."
They decorated it with battery-powered lights.
"They had a few presents and they were grateful, but it was heartbreaking because I wanted to give them more," Benitez added.
Their two older boys, 7 and 4, would like scooters and bikes like the neighborhood kids have.
The older boy even brought home a broken bike and tried riding it.
"He always wants to play with them (the bikes and scooters), and he comes home crying to me. I tell him, ‘Son, I can’t really do anything because I don’t have the money.’ So he cries and thinks nobody loves him," she said.
The family needs new shoes or sandals for the couple and Benitez’s mother; educational toys for their 1-year-old boy; and clothes for their baby daughter.
THE GOOD NEIGHBOR FUND
Clothing, household items and gifts can be dropped off at the Community Clearinghouse, 2100 N. Nimitz Highway, next to Puuhale Road.
Monetary gifts may be sent to the Star-Advertiser’s Good Neighbor Fund; Care of Helping Hands Hawaii; 2100 N. Nimitz Highway, Honolulu, HI 96819.
Checks made out to the Good Neighbor Fund also may be dropped off at any of First Hawaiian Bank’s branches statewide.
Call 440-3800 for more information to sign up for the Adopt-a-Family Program or to arrange for pickup of large items.
Helping Hands Hawaii’s donation warehouse hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (extended hours through December) Monday to Friday. The warehouse will also be open from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays through Dec. 21.