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Generosity results in ‘a fantastic year’

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The Good Neighbor Fund — the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s annual Christmas drive — raised $127,703 to help a total of 2,511 people as of Jan. 31.

"It was a fantastic year," said James Li, coordinator of Helping Hands Hawaii’s holiday program, Adopt A Family.

The total was up from the 2013 tally of $106,793, which assisted 2,290 people.

Li said the nonprofit saw a slight increase in the overall need among those struggling to obtain basic necessities, even in an economic upturn. But it was difficult to tell whether it was due to more public awareness of the program, or a reduction in the number of nonprofit organizations offering relief during the holidays, he added.

Around Christmas it’s even harder for those in need to go without the extras, especially when they have kids.

"They see everyone else celebrating," Li said. "It invokes a certain ‘call to action’ in the (Helping Hands) staff to want to do good and help out."

With only 10 to 15 trained volunteers who return every Christmas, Li said most of the organization’s 20-plus staffers donate personal time to sort, wrap and deliver presents to clients, and "adopt" families on their own.

"It speaks to their commitment to their work and the agency’s philosophy of ‘help people help themselves,’" he added.

The most requested items included household supplies, as well as educational toys for children — particularly those based on the popular movie "Frozen."

Besides special Christmas meals and gifts, money raised from the Good Neighbor Fund will also provide emergency financial assistance to low-income families and individuals this year. Helping Hands receives an average of 15,000 calls annually for emergency aid from those in danger of being evicted due to past-due rent or utilities.

A significant number of people living in emergency or transitional homeless shelters also request rental or utility deposits, and other supplies.

"The goal is to help them get back on their feet, and through the process, help them to assess their situation and come up with a plan for how to avoid such situations in the future," Li said.

More contributions than usual came from companies or groups that organized donation drives. Overall, Helping Hands said it "noticed a higher level of community awareness of the program," most likely because it has been around a long time, Li said.

About $10,000 was generated by donations in exchange for Betty Shimabu- kuro’s five top "By Request" recipes of the year, a benefit run for the past eight years by the Star-Advertiser cooking columnist and managing editor, Li said.

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