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Former soldier gathers volunteers to help homeless

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Christina Bush, with a sign that reads “Peace on Earth,” at Valoha Giving Movement’s first Aloha Christmas event at Pupuole Mini Park on Dec. 17. The kids also talked to Santa at the park.

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Christina Bush helped out Santa by handing out presents to Destiny Borce, 2, her aunt Ehiku Pontes Huseman, right, and their friend Kinai Perkins-Lincoln, behind Destiny, on Dec. 17 at Pupuole Mini Park. Bush is a licensed mental health counselor and the founder of Valoha Giving Movement, which helps homeless people via Facebook and Instagram donations. This is the group’s first Aloha Christmas event to give out toys — they collected over 2,000 — and meals and toiletries to the homeless and disadvantaged.

In just two years Christina Bush has solicited donations through Facebook and Instagram that have generated thousands of dollars’ worth of new and used donations for hundreds of homeless and low-income children and families across Oahu while building a small but loyal group of volunteers.

“Her heart is just full of gold,” said Jullie Passos of Waikele, who joined Bush’s Valoha Giving Movement soon after it began. “She would do anything to help people.”

On Sunday, $7,000 worth of donations through the Valoha Giving Movement provided turkey dinner, toys and toiletries for 700 children and adults at Waipahu’s Pupuole Park.

“Some of them were homeless,” Bush said. “The majority came from low-income housing nearby. Every child got a toy and a stuffed animal. The parents all got hygiene products, and everyone ate turkey dinner.”

On Christmas Eve, Bush led volunteers into a homeless encampment in Nanakuli where a volunteer Santa passed out backpacks full of socks and toiletries and toys and stuffed animals for 28 families. Then on Christmas Day, Bush and volunteers handed out 1,500 donated toys to two low-income housing projects on the Leeward Coast.

Bush estimates that the last four projects planned for 2017 alone generated at least $10,000 in donations.

“We make sure everybody gets something,” she said. “A lot of them don’t have food. A lot of times their kids don’t have clothes to wear to school. Sometimes they don’t even have 99-cent slippers. We’re changing a lot of lives.”

Bush grew up poor in Maryland, the second oldest of four siblings.

“My mom was always one paycheck from being homeless,” Bush said. “I was never homeless, but we sure had our share of empty Christmases.”

She served in the Army in Germany and got out as a specialist and eventually made her way to Oahu where, two years ago, she was laid off from her job at the University of Phoenix helping military veterans.

Dejected, Bush found a new purpose trying to help homeless people at Ewa Beach’s Hau Bush park get work by helping them with their resumes.

“These are the people I grew up with,” Bush said. “If anybody could understand me, it would be them.”

Bush said she helped 52 homeless people get jobs by working on their resumes and honing their interview skills.

“They started getting jobs,” Bush said. “They started getting off the street. That’s when I found that maybe I had a purpose to keep going.”

She started by soliciting donations for $5 gift cards from McDonald’s and Taco Bell to motivate the homeless at Hau Bush to clean up the beach park.

“One day somebody stopped us and said, ‘You guys have the homeless working. That’s not even something the state can do.’”

The Valoha Giving Movement was born.

“We wanted to put together ‘value’ and ‘love,’” Bush said. “‘V’ is for value.”

The Valoha Giving Movement Facebook page now has more than 7,000 members, and its Instagram account has 15,000 more.

Bush, 46, lives in Ewa Beach and works as a licensed mental health counselor for military families at Aliamanu Middle School in Salt Lake.

But she’s constantly working on the next Valoha Giving Movement project to help needy families.

Passos, 43, makes it a Christmas tradition for her 19-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter to donate “clothes and make a hot breakfast and bless a few families before we open our presents.”

The Passoses never have to look hard to find a family in need on Christmas Day.

“We just literally drive around,” she said.

Then she saw a Facebook post from Bush asking for donations to replace items that were stolen from her car.

“She was doing exactly what I wanted to do,” Passos said. “So I started following her that day. Now I’m one of her core members. The group has grown so big so fast that it’s hard to keep up sometimes.”

Passos’ passion to help people during Christmas last year spread to her best friend, Punahele Carnate, 36, of Kapolei.

Passos was busy putting together Valoha Giving Movement donations a year ago when Carnate realized “they didn’t have much for teens. So I made at least 20 gift bags for teen boys and girls — hats for boys, some cheap blankets I found on sale, makeup and cologne.”

She joined Passos at Hau Bush and then onto Pupuole Park.

Carnate was stunned at the turnout.

“There were at least a couple hundred people, if not more,” Carnate said. “It was a long line.”

Carnate, along with the other Valoha Giving Movement volunteers, continues to use her own money to buy things such as diapers and food.

“You quickly realize that everyone has a story,” Carnate said.

“Some people, unfortunately, made wrong choices. But not everyone is that case.”

Her own father died homeless and on the street near the old Iwilei Kmart in October 2016.

He was 57.

“He died of a heart attack — and from years of drug use,” Carnate said. “He, unfortunately, made some bad decisions.”

Now Carnate hopes her work with the Valoha Giving Movement will give her two children — ages 5 and 9 — more appreciation for what they have — and for the needs of so many across Oahu.

“I don’t want them to just realize that people have less,” Carnate said. “I want them to know that there’s something you can do about it.”

And she credits Bush for helping to spread that message on a much bigger scale.

“Christina,” Carnate said, “is a big inspiration for everyone.”

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