Wednesday, December 22, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
At Waimano Home's Kokua Mau Work Center in Pearl City,
client Charlotte Foster prepares lunch for the other clients.

Grinch steals
at center for

A burglar breaks into the
Kokua Mau Work Center
and steals 35 presents

How to help

By Jaymes K. Song


Someone has stolen Christmas in Pearl City.

Sunday night or early Monday morning, a burglar broke into the Kokua Mau Work Center -- a nonprofit vocational program for adults who are developmentally disabled or have mental retardation -- and stole 35 presents that were going to be given to some of them from underneath their Christmas tree.

"How could somebody do this to them?" said Dolores Domen, a supervisor at the center on Waimano Home Road. "This screwed up Christmas."

Meanwhile, Domen and the rest of the center's staff are frantically searching for gifts for the 35 people whose presents were stolen. But they have two problems: time and money.

The center's Christmas party is tomorrow, and they don't have enough money to replace all the presents.

"Everybody worked all year for this day," Domen said, as her eyes filled with tears. "Usually, we help people. This time, I think we need the help."

In addition to the gifts, the crooks ransacked the center's cupboards and stole potato chips, canned fruit and seven boxes of Pop Tarts.

"They left the kidney beans," said Yvonne Angut, the center's executive director.

Police said they have no suspects.

"Disgusting," one officer said. "Hopefully, they didn't know who they were stealing from."

The center's staff spent months hunting at midnight sales, swap meets and malls for presents for the 106 "workers" at the center. Each present is worth about $20 and was something the person wanted.

So when staff members learned that someone had taken 35 of the 106 presents, they were devastated.

"I'm upset because they don't ask for much," Angut said, holding back tears yesterday while trying to remain positive about the situation.

As of yesterday afternoon, Angut did not inform the workers of the theft.

"They would feel so bad," she said. "They don't need it. It's like telling a child there's no Santa Claus."

Each worker was referred to the center by a social worker, their family or the state. At least a dozen are "multisensory impaired," said Angut, which means they are deaf, sight impaired and have mental retardation.

For many workers, the center is the only place where they can actually work, earn money and learn skills.

For others, it's the only home and family they know.

The center currently is working on assembling and refurbishing many goods, such as used airline headsets and hula skirts.

Ed Trinnaman, who owns a wholesale business called Hawaii Seeds, donated money and food to the center after hearing about the theft.

"It's terrible," he said. "I can't believe at Christmas time, especially for these handicapped people. It's unbelievable."

Employees work at their own pace and are responsible for primarily one task, whether it's untangling headset wires, replacing ear pads or placing headsets in bags.

Companies pay about 10 cents to 15 cents for each finished item.

Everyone works hard for the little money they make, Angut said, which makes her even more angry.

And she had a message for the person who stole the presents: "If they can work, why can't you?"

How to help

To donate gifts or money, call Yvonne Angut at 455-7847. Some of the items on her wish list: T-shirts, large women's clothing, portable radios, cameras, coffee mugs, binoculars, sunglasses, flashlights, "Buddha" bracelets and wristwatches.

E-mail to City Desk

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