The private operation is just one example as people and groups across Hawaii mobilize to help survivors of wildfires that destroyed the historic town of Lahaina.

Baby formula. Feminine products. Socks. 

These are some of the items evacuees in Maui are writing on “need boards” at the county’s shelters. 

One Honolulu-based helicopter tour company has brought thousands of pounds of these items and other supplies to those affected by the wildfires in West Maui – especially mothers and young children. 

Rainbow Helicopters canceled tours to fly thousands of pounds of supplies to mothers and infants affected by the wildfires in West Maui. (Madeleine List/Civil Beat/2023)

On Saturday, staff with Rainbow Helicopters gathered at the company’s headquarters near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport carefully organizing piles of supplies by weight so they could be strategically loaded onto helicopters. 

Three choppers carrying 1,047 pounds of supplies, including feminine hygiene products, baby formula, toothbrushes, toothpaste, bars of soap, baby wipes and other essentials, took off in the afternoon and flew past the lush green sea cliffs of Molokai, which stood in stark contrast to the singed and blackened town of Lahaina on Maui.

”It’s dusty and grey, and it looks like a demolished construction site,” said Nicole Battjes, CEO and director of operations at Rainbow Helicopters, who flew over Lahaina on a separate supply run on Friday.

The helicopters couldn’t fly directly over Lahaina on Saturday because of a temporary restriction on airspace. They landed at Kahului Airport at around 3 p.m. Saturday.

Lahaina seen from the air on August 11. “It’s dusty and grey, and it looks like a demolished construction site,” said Nicole Battjes, CEO of Rainbow Helicopters. (Courtesy: Nicole Battjes/Rainbow Helicopters)

A box truck met them on the tarmac, and staff and movers formed an assembly line to load the supplies onto the truck for delivery to Lahaina and distribution to families identified by the Na Aikane o Maui Cultural Center. 

“We feel like we’re getting it directly to moms in need,”  Battjes said. 

Matthew Frisbie, who was helping deliver the supplies for the cultural center, said many people trying to drive into Lahaina with donations had experienced difficulty getting through because of red tape put in place by authorities. But on Saturday, he planned to piggyback behind another convoy of trucks that had prior authorization to drive in. 

Staff members with Rainbow Helicopters loaded donations of diapers, baby formula, feminine products and other supplies onto a helicopter to be flown to Maui. (Madeleine List/Civil Beat/2023)

As crew members loaded supplies into the truck, a helicopter towing a bucket of water could be seeing flying overhead – a reminder that parts of the island were still smoldering. 

After hearing about the fires, which began Tuesday, Battjes said she immediately started thinking about how she could help. 

“I have these helicopters, and I can use my unique business and my unique platform to serve a very niche piece of this disaster, which is women and babies,” she said. 

On Thursday, she sent her assistant and father-in-law on a Costco run to stock up on supplies, like formula, diapers and baby wipes. After being swarmed by messages from people asking how they could help, she started a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $31,000. 

Nicole Battjes, CEO and director of operations at Rainbow Helicopters, said that as the mother of an 8-week-old and a 2-year-old, she worried about families with young children in Maui. (Madeleine List/Civil Beat/2023)

“I have an 8-week-old and a 2-year-old, and I was just thinking of all the families that may have nothing,” said Battjes. 

Kalei Perreira, operations manager for Rainbow Tours, is originally from Maui and said at least two of her family members’ homes had burned down. Communication with them had been spotty, but she knew they were OK and in shelters. 

As the last of the supplies were loaded onto the truck, she tried to think positively about Lahaina’s future.

“It’s completely saddening, but we know that the community will come together and rebuild this into something better than it was before,” she said. “As a community, we want to see it thrive, so I know that it’s going to be nothing short of beautiful when it’s rebuilt.”

Kalei Perreira, operations manager for Rainbow Helicopters, said she has family members on Maui who lost their homes in the wildfire. (Madeleine List/Civil Beat/2023)

Battjes said she also looked forward to the rebuilding of Lahaina – a place she associates with beautiful memories of family vacations and quality time with loved ones. 

“I think that Lahaina is going to rebuild into a very strong, beautiful new community,” she said. “And it’s going to blossom.”

But as the death toll rose to 93 on Saturday night and specialized dog teams continued to search through the rubble for missing people, the rebuilding still felt far off. 

In the meantime, organizations across the state are mobilizing to provide direct aid to those impacted, including the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Maui Food Bank, the Maui Humane Society and the World Central Kitchen, among others. 

Battjes said she planned to continue her company’s supply flights for as long as they were needed. Rainbow Helicopters had canceled around 20 tours between Friday and Saturday so they could focus on ferrying donations to Maui. 

“We have stuff that they need, and I have the vehicles to get them to those people, and that feels good,” she said. “It feels really wonderful to help.” 

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