DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
"Leslie," a mother of five, is a part-time aide at Kalihi Kai Elementary School. She is with her autistic son at the school. This family is part of Community Clearinghouse's Adopt-a-Family program, which helps needy families during Christmas with the help of the Star-Bulletin's Good Neighbor Fund. The family is asking for beds, a sofa and a love seat.
GOOD NEIGHBOR FUND
Coping in crisis: Family of 8 struggles with rent, beds
When the bedbugs are biting, the landlord is raising the rent and her little boy is banging his head in a typical tantrum, "Leslie" says, "I just gotta run away."
"I do ... for about five or 10 minutes," she said. After a little walk, Leslie (a pseudonym) returns to face her life in the Kamehameha Housing project.
The mother of five, ages 7 through 17, manages to laugh with the hardships she faces. Bingo every Saturday and volunteering at the Hawaii Foodbank, where she acquires food and friendship, are the only social events in her life that help her cope.
Helping Hands Hawaii reaches out to families such as Leslie's through its Adopt-A-Family program. Run by the Community Clearinghouse, the program is asking the public to help lighten their load by donating items or funds. The Star-Bulletin's Good Neighbor Fund contributes to the effort every holiday season.
Eight people share a two-bedroom apartment in Leslie's family, with a few of them sleeping on the floor. Two months ago, her 87-year-old mother emigrated from American Samoa to live with them, and has not yet acquired any government assistance, Leslie said.
Recently, they had to get rid of three beds and a sofa infested by bedbugs -- "My kids were eaten alive!" Most of them have been sleeping on the floor until donated beds arrive, but "we need a sofa and a love seat," she said.
They can't afford to buy their own, even with her husband working a full-time job and Leslie working part time as an educational aide for disabled children, she said.
Most of her spare time revolves around watching her autistic youngest son, who has no fear of climbing, heat, fire, pain or wandering the neighborhood. His tantrums last 45 minutes to an hour, "morning, afternoon and night," and the only thing that calms him is letting him take a hot shower or play with a water hose, Leslie said.
Her youngest child doesn't talk at age 7, and her most fervent wish is, "Oh, my God, just please say one word, please, please, please!"
If she got only one Christmas present, it would be a communications device called "Go Talk," distributed via EnableMart.com. The model she saw in a catalog costs about $240, but she is convinced it will help her son express his needs, she added. "I have to read his mind," she said.
Another son is struggling with his transgender sexuality. He used to run away from home and use drugs to deal with his emotional pain. Leslie and her husband had a hard time accepting him as he was, but now that they realize they can't change him, things are quieter on the home front, she said.
The latest crisis is paying December's rent, which went up in proportion to her husband's increased paycheck, according to requirements of their government-subsidized housing program, she said. He might have to find a second job to cover costs, but if "he makes more, they take more," she said.
Contributing to the good neighbor fund
The Star-Bulletin's Good Neighbor Fund will take donations until Dec. 31, and will list donor names in the paper until Jan. 11.
Monetary gifts may be sent to: Honolulu Star-Bulletin's Good Neighbor Fund, c/o Helping Hands Hawaii, P.O. Box 17780, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817-0780.
In addition, checks (not cash or gifts) made out to the Good Neighbor Fund can be dropped off at any First Hawaiian Bank branch from Tuesday through Dec. 31.
Clothing, household items and gifts can be donated at the Community Clearinghouse, 2100 Nimitz Highway.
You may also participate in the Adopt-A-Family program, in which businesses, employee groups, social clubs, families or individuals can help a specific family. For information, call 536-7234, ext. 804.
Call 440-3804 for information about the program or to arrange for pickup of large items.