American Savings Bank executive Jennifer Capps Cook made a point of flying in from her Kauai office just to wrap Christmas presents for needy families with several colleagues Friday at the downtown Honolulu branch.
Their efforts helped clients of the Adopt-A-Family Christmas program of Helping Hands Hawaii.
"I would love to be able to see the kids open these gifts," Capps Cook said. "It would be so heartwarming."
Executive Vice President Margaret Pettyjohn and other employees of the retail banking department "adopted" two large families, each with eight members, as part of the bank’s year-round "Seeds of Service" volunteer program. Each department may select a community service project, so Pettyjohn, who just joined the board of Helping Hands, suggested they buy gifts for families who can barely afford basic necessities.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s annual Good Neighbor Fund is working with Helping Hands to collect toys, clothing and household items that can be dropped off at the nonprofit’s Community Clearinghouse. Monetary contributions can be made at all First Hawaiian Bank branches or mailed in.
With stacks of presents lining the walls, the conference room at American Savings was turned into Santa’s workshop for two hours as employees covered toys, clothing and even a large package of diapers with decorative red and green paper and yards of ribbon.
The room was filled with music, chatter and laughter. Each person on the team bought gifts, mixing practical items with fun things, especially for the kids, said Pettyjohn.
Capps Cook said, "The joy of Christmas for me has always been the joy of the surprise in the gift, so it was important we give them a gift to unwrap as well as gift cards."
One of the families they chose to help had been evicted from their home and had gone from house to house, living with friends or relatives. "I thought they were most gracious" to raise two more children who belonged to a sister, even with four kids of their own, Capps Cook said. "This one really tugged at my heart."
Chereen Pires took her two sons, 4 and 7, shopping and asked them to make suggestions about what to buy, "and I let them know why we were shopping for the baby."
"We’re so fortunate to have all the things we have — our jobs, family and our health — so it’s a good time to show my children that they have to give back. I always try to tell them they’re lucky to get gifts every year, because sometimes children don’t realize not everyone in the world is able to get gifts. So they were happy to participate," said Pires, adding that they do this every year for different charities.
Danielle Aiu, who also has two boys, found it a nice change to shop for two 3-year-old girls.
"It was fun shopping for cute, bright dresses," she said. "I normally buy khaki and jeans, you know, boy stuff, anything with sports and dark colors." For at least 10 years she has taken her sons shopping for "a mix of children and kupuna (elderly)" signed up with the former Christmas Wish Program Inc., founded on the Big Island.
"We would go down to Waianae to talk with the homeless, too," Aiu said.
Arnold Santayana said he was assigned to pick up gift cards and bags.
He said he was given the easiest things to shop for. "Simple tasks for a simple, single guy!"
That drew laughter.
Dee Carroll, director of Consumer Analytics, protested, "He’s the biggest gift-giver around. He loves to give gifts for no reason."
Santayana said, "I love the holidays, but it’s hard for me to celebrate it because I don’t have any family here (in Hawaii). My family is the people I make into it; I have to choose my family." Looking around at his co-workers, he said, "I’m giving them hugs (for Christmas)."
Also participating were Jason Lazzerini, director of consumer sales and operations support; Emma Jones, secretary; and Chuck Dando and Evanka Grant, regional executives of Maui and Hawaii island, respectively.
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.