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Gifts to help rebuild homes, lives

10 families each get $5,000 raised from Lahaina Strong Benefit Concert

Shelley and Ikaika Blackburn (from left), one of the families who organized the Lahaina Strong Benefit Concert in October to benefit Lahaina fire victims, pass out donations of $5,000 each to the affected families at Lowe’s in Kahului on Monday evening. The families may use the money for their Lowe’s purchases. Accepting the donation is Yolanda Dizon. In the back is Joseph Aquino, who also received a donation.

With 60 to 80 mph winds blowing through Kauaula Valley, flames from a wildfire bent sideways and everything was “absolutely crazy,” recalls Mark Palakiko, who stayed back to protect his home Aug. 24 as out-of-control conditions generated by Hurricane Lane whipped West Maui.

Throughout the night and into the early morning, Palakiko and other residents monitored their homes, leaving when smoke got too thick and returning to make sure their homes were safe.

At about 5:15 a.m. the next day, while away from the home and believing it had been spared, Palakiko got a call from his brother, who had gone back into the valley.

” ‘Mark, it’s your house,’ “ Palakiko remembers hearing.

“I just lost it,” Palakiko said, recalling he was in the middle of the road and let out a “Nooo.”

“Our whole entire life was in that house,” said the Lahainaluna High School teacher on Tuesday, recalling one of the biggest challenges of his life.

Palakiko, 42, had some regret knowing he could have pulled valuable items from his 20-year-old home overnight, including photos, his wife’s jewelry and hula implements, along with his musical instruments. His children, ages 11, 6 and 10 months, also lost their possessions, but they did not complain.

“I can’t change what happened,” Palakiko said.

Instead of wallowing in sorrow and pity, Palakiko, who is also a contractor, said his family took steps to rebuild their lives and are close to rebuilding their family home in the valley. It is set to be completed in March.

Just when construction funds were getting low, the Palakikos and nine other families impacted by the fire each received a $5,000 donation thanks to the Lahaina Strong Benefit Concert on Oct. 21 at the Lahaina Recreation Center.

It featured popular entertainers Willie K, Amy Hanaialii, Ekolu, Damon Williams, Na Wai Eha, Nuff Sedd, Piilani Arias, John Cruz and Matagi and others who donated their time.

On Monday evening, eight of the 10 families were at a presentation at Lowe’s in Kahului. Families received $5,000 to spend at Lowe’s, along with an additional 10 percent off purchases, organizers said.

Families who received the donation did not have insurance or other financial assistance, said one of the concert organizers, Ikaika Blackburn, whose family was among eight others who organized the event.

The concert was independent of other Lahaina Strong programs.

The concert organizers partnered with Maui United Way to obtain donations. Some of the larger donors were HBO with $10,000; Auwahi Wind with $5,000; Shaun Saribay, who donated $5,000 in the name of his Lahainaluna Class of 1999; and Desmond Alexander, who created and sold T-shirts and donated the $6,000 in proceeds, Blackburn said.

There were others who made donations, including hotels, which provided stays at their resorts for the silent auction, and Old Lahaina Luau, which donated food, he said. There were many other donations and sponsors, including Maui County.

Local families who worked on the event with the Blackburns were the Kuehus, Tevagas, Lawrences, Ugales, Sparks, Smythes, Saribays and Kahaialiis.

“We are super blessed for the community, those that stepped up with donations and the families felt very blessed, as well, to receive the monetary donations that they got from the event,” Blackburn said. “We raised over $50,000 for a one-time concert; that’s really good.”

The Maui Fire Department has been unable to determine the cause of the fire, which was fueled by Hurricane Lane’s winds, but damage totaled $4.3 million with 21 homes and 27 vehicles destroyed.

Also losing their homes were members of the Aquino family. Lecamieann Shiffler said her father, John Aquino, lost his home in Kauaula Valley. Shiffler’s brother and sister also lost their homes.

All three families each received $5,000 donations.

“It’s such a big blessing,” said Lecamieann Shiffler, who helped facilitate the donation for her family.

They are “holding up well,” said Shiffler, who lives in Kihei. “You can’t dwell on it.”

The Aquinos are rebuilding in the valley. Shiffler said the donation came in handy because her family was trying to figure out how to fund the rest of the construction.

Palakiko said that “funds are very low” and that the donations are “a huge blessing.”

“This is for my exterior door. All the paint, all my baseboard, my flooring,” he said. “This is all the final stuff in order for us to move into the house. This is a big blessing. It came at the right time.”

The Palakikos’ home is being rebuilt to better withstand another fire should one come again. The home will have a metal roof, concrete siding and a pump for water rather than waterlines that burned in the fire. He also has cut firebreaks.

Palakiko said he has felt the true meaning of aloha with community members helping out in a variety of ways. For example, they are living rent-free in a cottage in Wahikuli, thanks to U’i Castro.

Seeing the concern from families, such as the Blackburns, Palakiko said, “it gives you the glimmer of light.”

“The last light we saw was the fire light, that light we don’t like,” he said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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