Maui Strong Fund raises over $165M, aims to rebuild affordable housing for island families

Jan 1, 2024, 1:05 PM | Updated: Jan 22, 2024, 9:57 am

LAHAINA, Hawaii — Four months after the devastating Maui wildfires, donations to the island have yet to halt.

Viewers and listeners from Bonneville International stations, including KSL TV and all their radio stations, stepped up to raise more than $450,000 for the Maui Strong Fund. Bonneville International partnered with the Hawaii Community Foundation, which activated Maui Strong Fund the day after the fires broke out.

Maui Strong fundraiser to help with victim relief of Hawaii wildfires

Inger Tully is the director of philanthropy for the Hawaii Community Foundation. On Aug. 8, her beloved island of Maui was ravaged by a wildfire.

“It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” she said.

Nearly 100 people were killed and thousands of buildings, mostly homes, were destroyed. The historic town of Lahaina was reduced to ruins.

“So people woke up the day after the fire with no home, no employment,” Tully said.

The losses of those people fuel the work she does with the Hawaii Community Foundation.

“I think I was getting an email and a phone call every minute for about two or three weeks,” Tully said.

People of all ages in 53 different countries stepped up to help.

“We’ve had groups of kids all over the country doing lemonade stands and cookie sales and sending in their allowance.”

The Maui Strong Fund has collected $166 million and counting — the largest fundraiser in HCF’s history.

Tully said it’s like Maui is getting a world hug.

“It’s been amazing to be on that side of it,” she said.

The organization’s experience working on past disasters allowed it to respond quickly.

“There was a flood on Kauai then we had the volcanic eruptions on the Big Island. And then we went right into COVID,” Tully said. “We found that because we were able to get money out the door really quickly, like within two to three days, so we could get the money right to first responders.”

As of Dec. 1, over $34 million from the Maui Strong Fund has been distributed to 150 organizations. The funds have covered everything from food and health care (including mental health) to caring for pets.

“They took in all, hundreds and hundreds of dogs and cats. And this was critical because we couldn’t move people into temporary housing with their pets,” Tully said.

The Maui Strong funds also helped rebuild workforce development and housing.

“Housing is not affordable. Like half of our people here are paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

Healing will take time, but the foundation is committed to the long haul.

“It’s that balance between grieving and gratitude, you know, that I think we’re balancing each day,” Tully said. “Maui is such a special place. And everyone helps everyone like you help your neighbor.”

The island’s critical need now is affordable housing for those who lost their homes. Tully hopes the donated Maui Strong funds can help stabilize families and make them feel secure so they can stay on the island.

KSL’s Tamara Vaifanua will continue to share stories of resilience and faith on Maui as the community deals with loss in a Maui Strong documentary. It will air this April during the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Tune in on KSLTV.com, KSL TV or the KSL+ app.

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Maui Strong Fund raises over $165M, aims to rebuild affordable housing for island families