Chronicles of Courage — Helping the People of Maui

I am happy to introduce you to a dear friend of mine, Sheila McDonough. Last month, she travelled to Hawaii by herself because her heart was burdened for the people of Maui. I asked her to share her story.

What was your connection to Hawaii even before the Maui wildfires?

I first visited Maui with my husband, Shamus, back in 2005. We stayed at Kapalua. It was the last year the resort was set up w a hotel. They knocked it down at the end of that year and built a condo resort. Everything went wrong that trip. We booked a deep sea fishing trip. The four hour trip we booked was overbooked, so they put us on a different trip. It was eight hours and we didn’t know. We weren’t prepared. This is when I learned that I get sea sick. No fish was caught. They saw whales while I saw the back of my eyelids; I was below deck ready to die. The beach we were going to snorkel at was closed due to sharks. A fisherman dumped his chum and it landed in the bay. So, we were going to try jet skis. But, when we turned on the TV, we saw a story about a guy from Boston that fell off his jet ski and was lost at sea overnight. No, thank you. How about a helicopter ride? Well, if you get sea sick, you will get sick in a helicopter is what the locals said. We went to a fantastic restaurant on the beach in Lahaina and got food poisoning. Shamus was much sicker than I was, due to his Crohn’s. We had a luau booked. We couldn’t eat because we were sick, but we did our best. We did go back to that restaurant before we left because it was just that good. The massage on the cliff was nice, but I was chilly with the unseasonable cross winds. I ended up w sunburn after I napped on a lounge chair. Shamus went inside to nap. I didn’t think about the oil on me! The sunburn made me cancel my second massage. First world problems, I know. With all of our issues, it was still a fantastic and beautiful trip. This is when Shamus fell in love with the island. We went back with our son, Timmy, four years later. We enjoyed snorkeling, the beaches, lava, ice cream, the same beach restaurant, sunsets, cliffs, the rainforest, waterfalls, roadside stands and Lahaina Town w the Banyan Tree. We soaked in all that Maui had to offer. Shamus wanted us to move to Maui after the boys were grown. It became our fifteen year plan.

Shamus passed away before that time. He wanted his ashes on Maui. So, my third trip to Maui was to bring him to his final resting place. With “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” playing, his earthly journey was complete.

I returned this past March to visit. I hiked the entire time and returned to his favorite spot on the beach. It was no longer The Mixed Plate. It was now Star Noodle. I strolled Lahaina and stopped in Shamus’s favorite gallery. I had ice cream and watched sunsets. I took in the beauty and aloha offered on Maui and in Lahaina.

What led you to make the journey to Maui and how did you hook up with disaster relief organizations?

After the devastating fires on Maui, I watched the footage and cried. It felt like someone I loved had died. I was consumed with all that was lost.

Over the years since Shamus’ death, I encountered losing different aspects of my life with Shamus. I would say ‘it’s just one more thing’ each time something was lost and something new came about. My friends would understand each time I’d say it. They knew that it was another part of my life that is gone, that died and is no longer.

When Maui burned and the entire town of Lahaina was devastated, I watched as one more thing went away. Shamus’ favorite island town; his favorite spot to watch the sunset; his favorite gallery; his favorite corner ice cream shop. This town was the heart of Maui. Lahaina held all of the rich history and artifacts from their past. King’s quarters and churches and everything that is held dear to the locals living there. Lahaina was the home of generations of Hawaiians trying to hold onto their roots and keep the aloha of their land and their people alive. These people lost everything. They lost their homes, their jobs, their cars, friends and family. They lost untold stories from their matriarchs. They lost their spark.

My loss was absolutely nothing compared to theirs. They lost their way of life. I watched and I mourned for them and with them. I didn’t know what to do or think about it, but I knew it had to be something. I then realized that I could go there and help.

Before anything, I asked my workplace if I could take time to go to Maui. Without hesitation, I was told that I could. I started searching for information on how I could help. I started calling Maui organizations, but wasn’t getting anywhere. Online, I found Maui Nui Strong. On this site, I found the organizations that were accepting volunteers. I knew the week I would go and started emailing and calling until I was able to have guaranteed volunteer time scheduled. I booked my travel plans and made my way to Maui. I had delays and barriers on my way, but I made it there, even though it was a day later than expected. I was able to volunteer with Feed My Sheep and the Maui Food Bank.

On the day I arrived, I drove from where I was staying in Kihei to both volunteer sites. From there, I drove through the mountains on the north side to Shamus’ spot and down through Napili towards Lahaina. I saw tents set up at parks and stopped. I spoke with the locals and was invited to volunteer during my stay. I explained that I would be over after my time with Feed My Sheep and Maui Food Bank. I spoke w Robbie. He was told me that I don’t have to sign up, just show up. On my way back to Kihei, I stopped to watch the sunset. I met a firefighter named Todd from California. He had the same thinking that I did. He loved Maui and couldn’t stay home while they suffered on Maui. He flew out and was staying w a friend of a friend. He volunteered w Hope Chapel in Kihei. He spent time in Lahaina being the hands and feet of Jesus w Hope Chapel. He wasn’t volunteering in the capacity one would think a firefighter would. He volunteered w those who welcomed him and used him where most needed. He was an encouragement for me. We parted ways. It was his last night there and my first. I awoke the next morning before dawn and made my way to Feed My Sheep.

While there I met the sweetest soul in a woman named Zorie. She told me how the organization was created in 1999 to help feed those who were in need. We worked for the next three days side by side. We sorted pallets and pallets of fresh fruits and vegetables. What was good was saved and what wasn’t went to the farmers to feed their pigs. Nothing went to waste. While we sorted, others were building bags of fresh fruits and vegetables to give to those at their distribution sites. On their white board, Philippians 4:13 was written. I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHICH STRENGTHENETH ME… This is a Bible verse that many hold dear to their hearts. This is what Feed My Sheep was about.

When our work there was done, I made my way to Pohaku Park. This is what aloha means. They are ohana. These people took it upon themselves to gather items needed and put up tents and offer their assistance to their neighbors, families and friends. As told to me by those at this distribution site, they had no assistance for two days. No one was helping, so they realized that they had to help themselves. If they don’t, who will? They are their own ohana. They were able to get donations and the residents of Maui pulled together and showed up. They went to the stores. They bought water and food and clothes. Families have what they could. Children have their clothing and toys. The set up they had was quite impressive. They had a tent for everything. Tents were filled w clothing, baby items, household items, food, medical supplies. They had medical professionals, chiropractor care, massage and reiki. They fed their volunteers and the people who were seeking help. They gave diapers and formula to the babies without. They had a good truck designated to help their people.

I heard stories of people fleeing the fires, roads blocked. Families jumping into the ocean to escape the flames. The water was on fire in some spots. They had to jump into the fire and swim, hoping they would come out where there were no flames. They had their children, babies, grandparents with them. They were facing hurricane winds while struggling to survive. They didn’t have lifejackets or floaties. They had each other. They were driving through streets on fire. Running through flames. They were disoriented and unsure how they would survive. Some lost everything. Some were fortunate to not lose anything. Most lost their homes, their jobs and everything they had. They were housed, but had no home. They relied on others for everything. They received clothing and personal items from the sites. Many don’t speak English. Language barriers were plenty, but they all knew what each other needed. They needed help from one another. A kind word, a loving gesture. Food feeds the body, but love feeds the soul. They lost their town, but they didn’t lose each other.

On Wednesday, I worked Feed My Sheep and then made my way to Maui Food Bank. This experience was different. They had a warehouse full of grocery items to sort and shelve. This is where different organizations would come to gather food for others. This was clean and organized. While there, I worked w others that were not directly affected by the fires. They volunteered there regularly. My arrival was welcomed and appreciated. I saw a teacher from a local high school coming in to make choices of the food available for the high school seniors to bag and create packages for the high school seniors at a school in Lahaina. When my time there was done, I made my way back to Pohaku Park and then back to Kihei to eat, shower, sleep and get ready for the next day.

Thursday was distribution day at the Kahana Gateway. We spoke with those seeking help. These are the people that lost their homes, their jobs. Most had no income. They were unsure about unemployment benefits, were unsure how to go about getting help. I heard stories of devastation. The lost homes and families. The missing. The unknown. Feed

My Sheep is managed by a wonderful man named Scott Hopkins. I had the honor of working w him and meeting his family. He reminds me of a pastor here in Pennsylvania named Scott. They have the same desire and love for others. His kindness towards those in need and those helping was aloha and his faith shone through. I was able to meet two others from California who also made their journey to Maui solely to help. I enjoyed a meal with Feed My Sheep and made my way back to Pohaku Park and then back to Kihei.

Friday was my day of departure. I spoke with locals and heard horrible stories. Stories of those losing their loved ones, consumed by flames and rescued by others. Devastation and financial ruin. Their tourism has halted. Most people on Maui have lost their jobs or were being laid off. Stores and restaurants, coffee shops and activities are closed. Grocery store workers and big box store workers are suffering. Without tourism, people can’t work. They are just recovering from the closures from COVID. The residents of West Maui are torn between mourning and moving forward. They have nothing but can’t gain anything if they remain in their current situation. Some must leave the only homeland they know. Some will stay. Some have such distrust and some have such faith. What the people of Maui need is secure housing and tourism. The town of Lahaina is no longer, but there are other beautiful areas of Maui. They need us.

Did you have any God-sightings?

God was present through those helping their fellow Hawaiians and Americans, humans, people. God was there with the sunset. God was there as I was leaving Shamus’ spot and a rainbow was ahead. God is always there. You just have to see Him.

Moments where you saw His hand at work despite the devastation?

The biggest moments for seeing His hand at work would be w my time in the community tent and Feed My Sheep. I worked with a local name Alona at Pohaku Park. She had the spirit of a survivor. She did not lose her home, but her brother did. They are all unable to work. She was soft and kind and loving and what aloha and faith is about. She was quiet in her ways, but her presence was mighty.

I am so proud of Sheila. She took her compassion to the next level and gave of her time and finances to do what she could for a few days. There is no doubt but that she was an encouragement to these devastated people. Travelling alone, not knowing what the conditions would be when she got there took courage. And it sounds as though many people there have lost just about everything, yet are displaying great courage. Please remember to keep them in prayer.

And if you are interested in contributing or volunteering, here are some links:

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