Thursday, December 23, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Yvonne Angut, executive director of Waimano Home's
Kokua Mau Work Center assures Wesley Uehara that
she will write his name on this radio and it will be his
Christmas present. This was one of many items donated
after people read yesterday's Star-Bulletin story about
Kokua Mau workers' stolen gifts.

Grinch can’t ruin
this Christmas

More than 200 people donate
gifts and cash to a burglarized
work center for the handicapped

By Jaymes K. Song
and Harold Morse


Christmas can be stolen, but it also can be given back.

Numerous offers from all over Hawaii and even as far away as California have been made to Waimano Home's Kokua Mau Work Center to replace the 35 gifts taken from under their Christmas tree earlier this week.

When he first heard about the theft, Kaleo Souza, a supervisor at the center said, "It hurt inside."

"I was sad for them. How were we going to tell them? When some people didn't get presents, they were going to ask."

Today, as hugs, smiles, music and hundreds of gifts filled the center, Souza said the 106 developmentally and mentally disabled adults at the vocational program are "just in awe."

"It means a whole lot to them. I can't express it," he added. "I just want to thank everyone. Thank you so much."

"Oh boy," said Yvonne Angut, the center's executive director. "It's gonna be Christmas."

"My Christmas spirit is 100 percent regained."

More than 200 people donated gifts and money, and presents were still coming in this morning. The center has been fielding about 40 phone calls per hour since yesterday afternoon.

Call takers stayed until 10 p.m. last night. Other volunteers drove around picking up presents.

Air Force Maj. Robert Leonard said he was touched by the story in yesterday's Star-Bulletin. This morning he brought in several gifts, including portable tape players, watches and a basketball. His daughter is orthopedically handicapped. Leonard's Salt Lake home was destroyed by a fire last year, and he got such an outpouring of help, this is "something to give back."

The Trelli family from Mililani brought Christmas presents from under their own tree to the center.

Margo Kuzma from Mililani said, "It's horrendous," while dropping off a gift. "How can anybody do this to these poor people? I can't believe it."

She felt sorry for the workers and then got upset. "They're working hard. At least they're trying to get ahead on their own. They don't deserve this."

The thousands of dollars collected will go to replace the presents and for birthdays and holidays in the future.

"We didn't have any money," said Lisa Aholelei, another supervisor. "Now we can buy them two or three."

Some of the workers don't have family and live in care homes, and this was the only gift they were going to receive, she said.

Milton Lopez, 18, one of the workers, smiled and said he's anxiously awaiting to open his present, which he hopes is a Hulk Hogan T-shirt.

The burglary occurred Sunday night or early Monday.

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

"I'm really surprised," Angut laughed. "A heck of lot of people wanted to do something for the disabled but didn't know how."

Angut was trying to keep the theft secret from the participants but said they found out about it on their own.

"They suspected something was wrong," she said. "They kind of guessed it."

Police, meanwhile, were still seeking last night the thief or thieves who stole the gifts and ransacked the center's cupboards, stealing items like potato chips and canned fruit.

E-mail to City Desk

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