Ryder Cook became emotional after receiving gifts from strangers visiting the Institute for Human Services on Christmas.
The 58-year-old was surprised by the kindness of an Aiea family who spent part of the afternoon walking through the streets of Iwilei with bags full of wrapped gifts to give away to children and families in the community plagued by homelessness.
“I’m speechless. You can’t describe it. It makes you want to cry,” said Cook, who has been in and out of IHS for 21 years. “They don’t know us, we don’t know them. I’m touched by the gesture because these people are spending their Christmas coming and helping us.”
Birdie and Michael Holt and their four children were among the nearly 100 volunteers who met at Kakaako Waterfront Park on Tuesday afternoon to distribute gifts to the less fortunate. Birdie was browsing the internet when she came across a Christmas “present drop,” sponsored by a small nonprofit volunteer organization, Thrive Global Hawaii.
“I was like, ‘Perfect, this is something that I wouldn’t mind doing on Christmas Day for my family,’” said Birdie, who brought along her sons Samson, 13, Achilles, 9, and Allen, 18; her daughter, Kotch, 5; and Allen’s girlfriend, Kaylie Kapahua, 18. “We had our hard times. We had our share of struggles. We were blessed with many friends and family that helped us out. It doesn’t matter how, I just wanted to do something for my kids to give back.”
Holt’s eldest son, Allen, agreed that spreading joy on Christmas was as beneficial for his family as the families they presented with gifts.
“It’s just the Christmas spirit. Everybody’s smiling, everybody’s happy — even the people who don’t have anything, who don’t have much,” he said. “It gives you a chance to make them happy, so it makes yourself happy.”
It was the first time the family participated in such an event and the inaugural Christmas present drop for Thrive Global Hawaii, a 400-member volunteer group which coordinates local and global community service projects targeting at-risk youth and underserved communities in partnership with social services agency Parents and Children Together.
Its founder Christina “Tippi” Cogen, 41, has coordinated cleanups at the Kakaako park and distributed food to homeless families in the area. Most recently the group traveled to Bali to do environmental conservation work and to Morocco to plant 1,200 trees in the High Atlas Mountains.
Cogen, a retired Army chaplain who was homeless during her middle school and high school years in Hawaii, knows firsthand the struggles of being on the streets and started the nonprofit to “look out” for the underserved. The group distributed more than 200 gifts from Kakaako Waterfront Park to the homeless shelters in Iwilei.
“I felt the need to look out for those underserved at-risk youth and homeless families because we were there before. That’s just been a passion of mine based on my upbringing and what I went through,” she said. “With the recent sweeps, we just really want to be an organization that responds out of love for our community.”
As the Holt family walked through a street lined with tents with other volunteers who came together on Christmas, Birdie yelled out, “Merry Christmas!” while passing out presents and candy canes. Her children dutifully followed her.
“We try to give back to the community for the kids, for the people, for the families that need help,” Birdie said. “When they grow up I don’t want them to look down on them, because it’s not always their fault. Some of them, they put themselves in it, but for the most part Hawaii is expensive. So I wanted my children to understand that they’re human, too, and if we can give and help them in any way, show it.”