Extended family spearheads holiday event for less fortunate
‘I feel really blessed’
KIHEI — When Jerry Kaiwi thinks of her grandson living on the streets of Oahu, her eyes fill with tears.
“I saw how he lived,” she said. “I didn’t want that to happen to anybody.”
It’s part of the reason that Kaiwi comes back to Kalama Park every Christmas morning with her family to hand out breakfast, toiletries and wrapped gifts to the homeless and passers-by in need. The tradition was started 16 years ago by Kaiwi’s daughter Cheryl Padaken and, even though Padaken lives on Hawaii island now, the family carries on the mission.
About two dozen family members, friends and visiting volunteers showed up Monday to set up tables of hot cocoa, coffee, pastries, sushi and egg casserole. Another table held fruits and veggies, homemade banana bread, candy canes and reusable shopping bags of blankets and toiletries. A decorated tree with presents and boxes of cookies and cakes also stood nearby.
The Kaiwi family has been coming to Kalama since 2006, though Padaken started handing out baked goods a few years before that.
An avid baker, Padaken decided to take a box of extra cookies and cupcakes to Kalama Park one Christmas to hand out to the homeless. The people she met made such an impression on her that she started to do it every year until the rest of her family joined in.
About five or six years ago, the annual breakfast took on a personal note when Padaken’s nephew Imaika was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, said Hyde Batson, Imaika’s mother and Padaken’s sister.
“When he got that diagnosis . . . he kind of drifted off,” Batson said. “He didn’t want to live with me as his mom and his brothers.”
Batson said Imaika, who was in his early 30s at the time, became homeless partly because he didn’t want to be around people, but also because he didn’t want to be a burden to the family. Before that Imaika had worked at Nick’s Fishmarket and Wasa Electrical Services. He was “a go-getter” who loved basketball, rap and hanging out with his friends, Batson said.
For years, the family didn’t know where he lived, though they knew he frequented Kihei. Hopeful he’d stop by the annual Kalama breakfast, they dubbed the event “Imaika’s Christmas Project” and looked for him every year. He never came.
A few years ago, a former co-worker spotted Imaika on Oahu, Batson said. He still prefers to be left alone, but every so often his brother and cousin on Oahu will check in on him.
“At least I know that he’s still alive, and at least I know where he’s at,” Kaiwi said.
Meanwhile, the family spends every Christmas helping others who’ve fallen on hard times.
A man named Larry, who attended the breakfast and declined to give his last name, said he’d been homeless since Dec. 8 for the first time in his life. A week ago he was mugged. The attacker left him with a head injury that required staples and stole his cellphone and senior citizen bus pass.
“That’s what hurt me the most, was getting around, because I can’t go to Kahului and check out my EBT card,” Larry said.
The 65-year-old former SpeediShuttle driver has been living on Maui since 2001, but as rent for his one-bedroom place climbed from $600 to $1,100, he decided to look for other options. He rented, couch surfed and spent some time at Aloha House — an alcohol and drug treatment center in Makawao — before ending up at Kalama Park. Larry said cutting out drinking took a toll on his body, raising his blood pressure and causing him to have seizures for the first time.
He said his stepdaughter and grandchildren don’t know he’s homeless, and he’s reluctant to ask for help.
“I just haven’t been in this situation,” he said.
For at least a couple hours on Christmas Day, he was able to enjoy some breakfast and the company of the Kaiwi family.
Roommates Gilbert Perreira and Christina Ramos also came to the breakfast for the first time. Ramos is from California and doesn’t have family on Maui, so she thought it would be a nice way to spend Christmas. Perreira is from Maui, but many of his family members have died, she added.
When Ramos first came to Maui from Hawaii island 10 years ago, she lived out of her car because she couldn’t afford to rent a place. Meanwhile, Perreira has been on the waiting list for Hale Mahaolu for several years now, she said. Eventually, both of them were able to apply for Section 8 housing.
Perreira, who lives on a fixed income and gets by on the occasional yard work or maintenance job, said his neighbors had ruined his mattress, and he was happy to receive a new futon along with his breakfast Monday morning. Both roommates walked away with bags of goodies.
“It’s great,” said Ramos, who works part-time for Mental Health Kokua. “I feel really blessed.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.