Future grants will be focusing on programs that support long term recovery.

In just over two months, the Hawaii Community Foundation has created the state’s largest Maui fire relief fund, Maui Strong.

The amount raised for the Maui Strong Fund — nearly $140 million — greatly exceeded expectations, according to the foundation’s CEO Micah Kane.

“It’s created a degree of stress on our organization, but one we’re adapting to,” Kane said.

The recent challenge of managing donations for fire survivors comes on top of its ongoing stewardship of donations and funds that support a variety of organizations and nonprofits in Hawaii.

As of Oct. 6, the fund had raised $138,498,958 — more than double the $60 million raised through all Maui relief GoFundMe pages.

The Hawaii Community Foundation models the disbursement on a FEMA disaster response plan. (Source: Hawaii Community Foundation.)

The foundation disbursed over $25 million in grants for immediate relief efforts to 117 nonprofits and state-based organizations in the first 60 days.

Modeled after a Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster response plan, the Maui Strong Fund was designed to be deployed in four phases — pre-disaster fundraising, immediate response, recovery and resiliency building.

The Foundation is now transitioning to supporting longer-term projects in the recovery phase expected to last two to three years, Kane said.

Grants so far have ranged from $5,000 up to $5 million and supported programs covering child care, mental health services, workforce development and immigrant services, among others.

“I don’t know what we would have done without them,” said Dawn Pfendler, Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation’s CEO.

Her foundation has pivoted to care for an onslaught of pets that need a temporary home while their owners figure out their housing situations.

Pfendler said she received $100,000, which was more than she asked for.

Then, after the foundation followed up with her, they awarded her an additional $150,000 — without her needing to ask. “The costs in this are very unknown. As time rolls by, we’re seeing the need is increasing,” she said.

Looking To The Recovery Phase

Grantees contacted by Civil Beat described a smooth but thorough application process with plenty of follow-up communication after disbursement. They each said the terms of the grant allows them to refocus from immediate relief efforts to longer-term projects.

Liza Gill, coordinator for the Hawaii Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said it was one of the easiest applications she’d ever filled out. Her group’s fiscal sponsor holds the money for her to use for services for non-English speakers. “I felt heard. I felt they understood what it takes to get the money out to people who need it,” Gill said.

Kai Nishiki and Sarah Pajimola, co-executive directors for Maui Nui Resiliency Hui, have used their $248,000 grant to pay the operating costs for 12 portable power stations and multiple Starlink satellite internet units in West Maui. They received the first half of their grant just eight days after the fire.

Grantees are required to keep detailed accounting of their expenditures, but were not sure yet when an official accounting would be due.

In the recovery phase, the foundation will be looking to disburse funds to programs supporting or creating affordable housing, fresh water resources and early learning initiatives.

Micah Kane, CEO of the Hawaii Community Foundation, said that the amount raised for the Maui Strong Fund greatly exceeded their expectations. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Kane said the idea is to stabilize the lives of survivors so they can focus on rebuilding and determining Lahaina’s future.

“There’s a lack of hope that we’re going to figure this out, but I think we can,” he said. “The next few months will be critical to building that confidence.”

The foundation had already established four different disaster funds after severe flooding on Kauai in 2019 — one for Kauai, Oahu, the Big Island and Maui — and has done pre-disaster fundraising for all of them.

“In the seven years I’ve been CEO, this is the fourth major disaster we’ve had,” said Kane.

The Maui Strong Fund was activated the day after the Maui fires with $1 million combining $170,000 in preexisting funds with $830,000 in donations that included:

  • $500,000 from the Omidyar Ohana Fund
  • $100,000 from the Goodfellow Bros.
  • $50,000 from Hawai‘i Life
  • $25,000 from the Cooke Foundation
  • $25,000 from Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture and Design
  • $130,000 in anonymous donations

The fund quickly ballooned to over $61 million just two weeks later, and the foundation is not deducting operating costs from donations received.

As contributions start to taper off, Kane said the foundation will direct donors to other nonprofits supporting recovery efforts.

Started in 1916, the Hawaii Community Foundation had over $813 million in net funds and assets, according to their most recent IRS 990 filing.

“Our organization has been around for a hundred years, and because of that people trust us,” Kane said.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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