West Jordan family who lost uncle, family home in Maui fires fundraising to send supplies overseas
Aug 15, 2023, 8:39 AM
WEST JORDAN, Utah — A West Jordan family who lost an uncle and their multi-generational family home in the Maui fires is now sending help to Hawaii.
It started as a small family fundraiser but has turned into a community-wide effort with places like the Ogden Police Department jumping in to help, and let this family know they don’t have to deal with their loss and pain alone.
On Monday afternoon, Brei Wolfgramm and her mother Laura Lapale taped up a box in the Lapale living room. They began packing it with shoes of all sizes.
“Sending clothes, shoes, hygiene stuff. We got a bunch of travel-size hygiene products like shampoos, conditioners,” Wolfgramm explained.
Wolfgramm and her family have been collecting all kinds of necessities to send to Maui. They already shipped off one set of 10 boxes packed to the brim.
On Monday, they were getting ready to send a second shipment, straight to their family.
“Our family over in Hawaii is already working on making sure that everybody gets what they need, as far as like family and friends,” Wolfgramm explained. Her uncle, whose home is safe, took in dozens of displaced people near Lahaina.
“With nothing but the clothes on their back. And she said that they were covered in ashes,” Wolfgramm said, explaining what her family told her. “And some of them had been burned and stuff from the fire.”
Wolfgramm’s parents, Paea and Laura Lapale, have been getting updates daily from family since the fires broke out a week ago and burned down more than 1,000 buildings, killing at least 99 people as of Monday night and displacing thousands.
On Monday, they talked to Paea’s sister-in-law Lana Phillips, who told them the death toll was rising as the search for bodies continued.
“What’s sad is that it was a day that they canceled school, so a lot of people left their children home to go to work. And so, they haven’t even searched the apartment complexes yet,” Phillips said.
They’re worried about incoming rain wreaking havoc on the cleanup and search effort.
“Now you’re going to have a flood,” Phillips said. “You know, when whenever there’s fire and then lots of rain, you’re going to have flash floods and landslides.”
Phillips, her husband, two children and mother-in-law had just left the family home in Lahaina last week about an hour before the fast-moving flames came toward the house.
Her mother-in-law Joanna Phillips, who is Paea Lapale’s mother, now owns the home, passed down from Lapale’s grandmother.
Their uncle, Leroy Wagner, was still at the house. Joanna Phillips talked to him on the phone as the blaze began burning through the neighborhood. He didn’t even know there was a fire outside at first until he happened to step out.
“He turned around to go out through the front of the garage, and the front was on fire,” Lana Phillips explained. “So, the last thing she told him, is to just get out. Do whatever it takes to get out. And he said, ‘I can’t… I can’t get out.’ And so, it just disconnected,”
It wasn’t until over the weekend that Uncle Leroy’s body was found, still inside the family’s house. They said it appeared he went into his room as far away from the fire as possible and hunkered down against a wall.
He was so unrecognizable that Lapale’s mother and brother had to go in for DNA testing to confirm it was Leroy.
As they grieve the loss of Uncle Leroy, Lapale’s five family members who lived in the home now don’t have a place to live. For now, they’re finding places to stay.
Lana Phillips, who said her husband and kids were only wearing bathing suits when they left, are just trying to survive.
Having the little essentials make a huge difference.
“I can’t even tell you when I got a stick of deodorant, and like how much that was,” she said. “When you went days without brushing your hair, brushing your teeth, like the bare essentials– like those things were so important for us who have had nothing.”
The Lapale family, being so far from Paea’s home where he grew up and knows so many people, had to do something to help.
“We’re here in Utah and seeing a need, we just couldn’t stand by and watch,” Laura Lapale said. “The most important thing is people and making sure that they are taken care of, no matter who they are.”
Paea Lapale said Lahaina is one family.
“When this thing happened like this, we all come together,” he said.
At first, the Lapales and Wolfgramm shared a small family fundraiser on their personal social media accounts and planned to send a few boxes of the bare essentials.
But word of their fundraiser grew and turned into helping tons of other families and friends displaced on Maui.
“A lot of people like responded so quickly,” Wolfgramm said. “It’s an amazing experience to see how kind people are.”
The Ogden Police Department, where Wolfgramm is a detective, even jumped in to help by sharing the fundraiser and offering to be a drop-off spot for items. Her coworkers and their families have donated tons of items.
“I didn’t know that we were going to get this much support. Like, I was just trying to help our family,” Wolfgramm said, wiping away tears as she spoke. “When we got all of this support, all these people came forward out of nowhere, everywhere. And we’re really grateful for it.”
Their family on Maui has now been able to hand out donations to others in need, showing that when people lose everything, if they have love and support, they still have something to be grateful for.
“I wanted to send my love to them,” Paea Lapale said, adding, “Stay strong, and we love you.”
How to donate
Donations can be dropped off at Ogden Police Department, 2186 Lincoln Avenue, up until Friday. Here is what the Lapale family is looking for:
CLEAN, NEW, UNUSED AND NOT EXPIRED:
- Baby food
- Gas stove
- Things to keep kids busy
- Board games
- Stuffed animals
- Clothes baby to 4XL
- Men’s and women’s clothing
- Shoes for men, women and children
People can also Venmo* Brei for funds to buy supplies and for shipping costs.
*KSL TV does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisers and otherwise proceed at your own risk.