The notion of helping others was ingrained in Susan Furuta during her childhood growing up in a plantation community in Ewa.
Furuta, 55, president and chief executive officer of Helping Hands Hawaii, a nonprofit organization that helps thousands of families every year, recalled how she and her family lived in a modest two-bedroom home in Tenney Village.
Life was simple, said Furuta, recalling when she played with her friends on dirt roads surrounded by sugarcane fields. Her clothes were sewn by her late grandmother, Mildred Numasaki, a seamstress who helped people with their laundry; her late grandfather, Yujiro Numasaki, a Japanese immigrant who moved to Hawaii from Fukushima, worked as a field supervisor at Ewa Plantation Co.
Furuta’s late mother, Jane Kunishige, was a field agricultural clerk for the same company that later merged with the Oahu Sugar Co.
“That community was a very tight-knit community,” she said. And when someone needed help, neighbors stepped up. “If someone is in need, it’s automatic … you go and help that person,” she added.
From her involvement with the Hawaii State Youth Volunteer Board during her teen years; helping Kauai residents devastated by Hurricane Iniki in 1992 while in her 20s and employed at Big Save Value Centers; and assisting people impacted by the 2008 recession through Helping Hands Hawaii, Furuta continues to rally the community to assist families in crisis.
“It’s all about neighbors helping neighbors and the collaboration between the different sectors of the community,” she said.
The annual Good Neighbor Fund — a charitable partnership of Helping Hands Hawaii, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and First Hawaiian Bank — kicks off today to help struggling families during the holiday season. For many years, the campaign has helped support the agency’s various programs, which include the Adopt A Family Program.
This year, the call for the public’s help to assist families in need is more profound as many who were already in a precarious situation are facing more severe hardships amid the COVID- 19 pandemic.
More than 500 struggling families are requesting food, cooking utensils and other necessities as well as assistance to fulfill their children’s holiday wish list of toys.
Program manager Kristine Garabiles said a lot of families suffered job layoffs and are worried about how they are going to pay rent and other expenses as unemployment insurance and other benefits may expire soon. “There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Garabiles said.
Some families have been forced to choose between paying rent and buying food.
“If there are folks that are able to help, all families would be appreciative,” she said.