'We felt really good just to give'


POSTED: Thursday, December 25, 2008

Donors who want to spread Christmas joy to needy families don't usually get to see how their gifts are received, but employees of the HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union were rewarded by the response of a single mother on Christmas Eve whom they “;adopted.”;

“;She was just overwhelmed,”; said Evelyn Utai, who with Abeni Fernandez led some 20 employees of the FCU's Member Service Center in their holiday outreach. “;She was tearing up the whole time.”;

This was the first time the center participated in the Community Clearinghouse's Adopt-a-Family program, which is supported by the Star-Bulletin's Good Neighbor Fund.

“;We felt really good just to give,”; said employee Joanne Congdon. “;Any time you're making someone happier, it makes you happier. Although we're doing the giving, it almost feels like we're getting back more.”;

The mom works 12-hour days at two part-time jobs and is raising three boys, one of whom will soon be deployed overseas. She was presented with bunk beds, bedding and gift certificates for food, clothing and a holiday buffet meal, said Utai. They also gave her a watch and foot massager.

The mother, who wants to remain anonymous, said her 6-year-old boy was especially glad for the bunk beds and immediately claimed the top bunk. He had outgrown his toddler bed and was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, she added.

“;This is the first time I was adopted as a family. It's, like, overwhelming. I'm so happy that there are people out there that care,”; she said. “;I just want to give them everything they need. They're good kids.”;

Mark Matteson, another employee, witnessed how “;very grateful”; the family was, which “;give us a really good feeling - to give back. We're fortunate enough to have a job in this economy and job security when so many people don't. But for the grace of God, it could be us.”;

Congdon said like most people, buying Christmas presents for her own family was harder to afford this year, and she cut back on her usual number of gifts. But, “;God, family and friends - that's all you need,”; she added.

Manager Anne Tao said her employees, who were given background summaries of various families to choose from, selected this particular family because the mother “;showed determination.”;

“;She just had that determination to survive,”; Tao said.

To supplement what employees chipped in, Karl Yoneshige, president and CEO of HawaiiUSA FCU, authorized company funds to buy the gifts as part of its community outreach, Tao said. Scott Kaulukukui, senior vice president of the credit union's Communication Excellence Group, donated and set up the bunk bed frames; and Makino Chaya restaurant provided the holiday meal.