Homeless receive backpacks

KIHEI – More than 200 Maui homeless people got a free backpack and meal Wednesday afternoon at St. Theresa Church, thanks to the church’s Hale Kau Kau program and a Chicago philanthropist.

Ron Kaplan, co-founder of a music-booking agency, donated the backpacks through “The CITYPAK Project,” which has distributed more than 5,000 backpacks in Chicago and Boulder, Colo. The Maui backpacks were specially designed for the island and Kaplan said that he has partnered with the church, the Salvation Army and the Family Life Center in Kahului to deliver 550 more to areas throughout Maui, including Hana.

“We’ve been vacationing here probably 8 to 10 years . . . so I take from the island, and as we were developing this charitable initiative with High Sierra, we decided that we wanted to bring it here as well,” he said of himself and his wife, Trudy. “We take from this place and wanted to give back.”

Kaplan and Mayor Alan Arakawa passed out the backpacks to homeless people including Kawika, who declined to give his last name.

Kawika said he has been living on South Maui beaches for the last three years. After shaking Kaplan’s hand, Kawika called the bag “awesome.”

“This is my only bag right here and you can see it’s just got one strap that I tied,” he said holding up a smaller backpack he had with him. “I would sleep on this thing every day and if you don’t have your stuff within arms length or in your arms, tweakers and thieves will steal it.”

About 50 volunteers helped deliver food for the church’s weekly program that also includes Kihei Lutheran Church and Trinity by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.

Susan Forsyth, a volunteer and St. Theresa member, brought plates of seafood pasta, beef tenderloin and an assortment of pies to the homeless patrons and said the Christmas Day program is “getting bigger every year.”

“I think the best thing is the backpacks,” she said. “When we work at Hale Kau Kau, we see people come up to the window and they got their Wal-Mart bag or paper bag or whatever so now they get to have these wonderful backpacks.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.