helps those in need
Donations assist thoseMonetary donations are welcome
in the community who
can't make ends meet
By June Watanabe
Perhaps more than Thoreau imagined when he wrote of the "mass of men (who) lead lives of quiet desperation," there are many in our community who struggle daily to get food for each night's dinner, who sleep on floors, who watch their children go off to school without shoes or supplies.
While many of us worry about paying for the newest computer upgrade or the latest model minivan, they worry about survival or about having some reason to live beyond today.
A disabled young man and his disabled mother, whose only furniture is an old couch reeking of urine; a family of five with barely enough money for food, let alone electricity or a telephone; a Vietnamese immigrant, grateful for the chance to live a better life in the United States, but struggling to keep afloat while juggling school, jobs, an ill wife and two young sons.
Their needs are year-round. But it's become traditional this time of the year to ask the community to look, collectively, into their hearts and pocketbooks to help those who are leading lives of quiet desperation.
Today, the Star-Bulletin kicks off its Good Neighbor Fund, a month-long drive to assist individuals and families in need, in partnership with the Community Clearinghouse, a program of Helping Hands Hawaii; the Hawaii Food Industry Association; and First Hawaiian Bank.
When Joseph Campton took over as director of the Community Clearinghouse last June, he sought to literally make a molehill out of a mountain -- of clothes and household items stacked in an old, 6,000-square-foot warehouse on the Kapalama Military Reservation.
The piles of donated goods spoke of the community's largesse in trying to help the needy.
But Campton realized he had to make some sense of what was coming in and what was going out to ensure people got what they needed.
He sped-up the delivery process and eliminated waiting lists so that it's more first-come, first-served to the nonprofit and social service agencies that obtain goods on behalf of clients.
At about the same time, Neri Moevao, "my right hand man," was hired, responsible for organizing both the current warehouse, as well as the Clearinghouse's move to a 10,000-square-foot home early next year at 2100 Nimitz Highway.
Standing amid racks and bags and stacks of cloths, Moevao pointed to where the kitchen section now sits. There's the clothing area, he said, and the bedding area.
He tried to set it up "like how you have things in your own home." And, to create much-needed space. "Before, you wouldn't be able to stand here," Moevao said. The piles of clothing reached almost to the ceiling of the vast warehouse.
Campton credits a donation from Liberty House -- $250,000 worth of racks used in the company's former Penthouse stores -- for helping to bring order to the chaos.
In fact, it's the generosity of businesses like Liberty House, Kmart, Wal-Mart, C.S. Wo, various hotels, etc., that account for many of the most usable items that pass through the warehouse.
Duty Free Shoppers, for example, donated 150 computers. In turn, Campton found pleasure in passing them on to various cash-strapped nonprofit agencies.
Whether with needy individuals or agencies, "We are in a continual cycle of recyling," Campton said.
The Community Clearinghouse, part of the Helping Hands Hawaii organization, accepts donations from the community, then passes them on to 68 social service agencies and organizations that are registered with the Clearinghouse. Those agencies decide who can most benefit from the goods.
"For the longest time, we took anything," Campton said. "But we became a garbage dump" because people dropped off almost anything in return for a receipt for a tax-deductible donation.
"What the truly needy need are survival items," he said. Things like beds, dressers, refrigerators, microwave ovens and baby supplies, especially disposable diapers and infant and toddler apparel.
"We get lots of shoes, but we don't need high heels," he noted. People also have dropped off Dior dresses and fur coats, but such items are better suited to organizations that actually sell donations for cash.
"We don't sell anything," he said. "We donate everything that comes in and get it to the needy."
For awhile, there were "lots of knickknacks," but the needy don't really need knickknacks, either. Campton had them boxed and sent over to a community group that ran a thrift shop, with proceeds helping to support a women's shelter.
Other times, Clearinghouse donations will be packaged and given to churches, which will sell them, and in return give something back, such as disposable diapers.
Food items are discouraged, because the Clearinghouse is not equipped to store food. Donors are directed instead to the Hawaii Food Bank.
The Community Clearinghouse has only four full-time workers, plus Campton, so relies on some dedicated volunteers, plus 18-25 community service workers a day.
They include people on public assistance who have to put in some work time, those sent from teen courts, those on prison furlough programs, and others.
"As far as giving back to the community, it works out for them and for us," Moevao said.
Despite the economy, donations have been steady year-round, Campton said.That's good, considering that -- although the plight of the needy gets focused on during the holiday season-- the demand for help is there all year long, he said.
Monetary donationsStar-Bulletin staff
Monetary gifts may be sent to the Star-Bulletin's Good Neighbor Fund, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802, or dropped off at any of First Hawaiian Bank's 56 branches.
Helping Hands Hawaii converts the checks into Holiday Gift Certificates, which then are given to social service agencies to pass out to their clients. The certificates are good at any member store of the Hawaii Food Industry Association.
Clothing, household items and other gifts can be dropped off at the Community Clearinghouse, 914 Kapalama Military Reservation.
You may also participate in the Adopt-A-Family program, in which businesses, employee groups, social clubs, families or individuals can pick a specific family to help.
Adopters are provided with details of a family's needs, tragedy or circumstances, and then can let the Community Clearinghouse know what they can provide.
Call 847-1362 for information.