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United Way Blog

Rally Around Maui: United Ways Respond to the Wildfire Disaster

The Maui Wildfire Disaster stands as the deadliest natural catastrophe in Hawaii's history. On August 8, deadly wildfires, fueled by a combination of land and atmospheric conditions, including a drought and powerful winds, devastated the Hawaiian island of Maui. The town of Lahaina suffered massive destruction, and the inferno claimed over 100 lives. In a Center for Disaster Philanthropy webinar, Nicholas Winfrey, President and Chief Professional Officer at Maui United Way says, “Maui, Maui Nui and especially our Hawaiian and AAPI were hurting and struggling plenty before this. Our ALICE data really makes that clear, and it’s been confirmed by census data. Per capita income in Lahaina was just over $30,000. Rents were just below $1,700 a month.” Almost 1000 people remain unaccounted for and more than 2,000 structures burned to the ground. The disaster represents a profound loss of life and a threat to the ancestral homes and heritage of an already fragile community.

In response to the disaster, United Ways worldwide have rallied to the Maui cause. Locally, though with only five employees, Maui United Way sprang into action, in a display of remarkable agility and responsiveness. In coordination with the global United Way Network, they raised millions of dollars through their disaster fund, focusing on meeting the critical needs of the Maui community. United Way Worldwide (UWW) deployed specialist staff to provide vital on-the-ground capacity. They helped establish a cross-functional UWW team that meets daily to identify and close support gaps, and drive stakeholder support for Maui United Way's efforts. 

Around the world, local United Ways collaborated on a coordinated response, contributing technical expertise, resources, staff time, and financial support.  United Way Southeast Louisiana donated $100,000 in the form of 200 gift cards to provide individual direct financial relief in Maui. United Way of Salt Lake contributed staff time to review grant applications, United Way New Jersey supported the needs assessment process using the ALICE data, and United Way Palm Beach contributed disaster grant application and evaluation templates. United Way of the Wine Country (CA) shared disaster grant-making resources, while the United Ways of California set up weekly calls with colleagues across California to meet on-the-ground need. Several other local United Ways continue to contribute time, resources, and skills. In an update to the United Way Network, Angela F. Williams, President and CEO of UWW said, "Across the Network, United Ways are lending their expertise, providing financial support, and promoting the disaster fund. It truly demonstrates the power of the global United Way Network." 

The collective effort immediately assisted local nonprofits and families affected by the disaster. Food, temporary shelter, crisis counseling, medical outreach, mental health care, and essential provisions for emergency responders were able to reach communities on the island. Maui United Way is also distributing $1,000 emergency financial assistance grants directly to survivors of the impact zone.

Grants were dispatched to nonprofits working diligently to meet emergency needs, including provision of medical outreach by Native Hawaiian practitioners, and assistance to people with disabilities and mobility issues. This extended support even included transportation for essential services such as medical treatments and document replacement for those who lost IDs and passports in the fires. 

The Maui Wildfire Disaster's destruction is a staggering reminder of nature's unpredictable and devastating force. In the face of such tragedy, the coordinated efforts of United Way demonstrate the power of community, empathy, and resilience. It shows us that when communities come together, we can rebuild and recover from even the most profound loss. However, our ability to respond effectively to disasters requires ongoing preparedness and resources.

Your contribution to the Maui United Way Disaster Relief Fund can make a difference in countless lives, now and in the future. The wildfires in Maui show us that hardship can sometimes find us without warning, and we must always be ready to help.