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A First-hand Account of the Volunteer Response Efforts on Maui

Header Photo By: Maureen Brock, Surfrider Foundation Maui Chapter

Lauren Blickley, Surfrider Foundation’s Hawaiʻi Regional Manager, shares her first-hand account volunteering this past weekend in response to the devastating Maui fires: 

It’s amazing how things change so quickly in just a short few days. The island is collectively shell shocked. But as with the other natural disasters we've faced on Maui, there is a profound sense of community and support that comes together during a crisis. 

First, the most important news is that our immediate Surfrider Maui Chapter volunteers are safe. The Chapterʻs Volunteer Coordinator, Maureen Brock, evacuated her house in Lāhainā around 4:30pm on Tuesday afternoon. The last text we received from her was at 9pm that evening, indicating she was safe and sleeping in her car at Kahekili Beach Park. At the time, our thoughts were more focused on the fire that had broken out in South Maui, just a few miles from where the Chapter was hosting a screening of Waterman. Miraculously, Maureenʻs house survived the fire. But like many who evacuated that day, she has a story to tell about the days following the fire and her journey out of West Maui. We are still in the process of checking on all of our Lāhainā members and partners - many of which we know lost their businesses and/or homes. More to come in the days and weeks ahead. 

I had the opportunity to go out to Lāhainā today (Sunday) and assist with a food distribution center set up by the Mayor’s office. Looking down towards the ocean was like seeing a war zone. Our bus full of people fell silent. As we came down the road and entered the upper part of Lāhainā, one of the Hawaiian women on the bus began to pule (pray). It brought tears to all of our eyes.

Seventy-three of us volunteers (most complete strangers) came together to service hundreds of residents who came through to pick up food, propane, diapers, formula, and even prenatal vitamins. It was the second day of this distribution site, so processes were evolving every hour. In addition to entering Lāhainā town, the hardest part of the day was when I was going car-to-car passing out loaves of bread and came across a friend that I had not been able to get in touch with. While she and her house were safe, she lost her entire scuba business (her office, storage unit, and boat). 


I want to comment on how a lifetime working in nonprofits has equipped me to respond in crisis situations. Nonprofits are nimble, adaptable, problem solvers. We can quickly mobilize. We know how to step in and be leaders, but also how to step to the side when needed. We play to our strengths and recognize our weaknesses. Weʻre used to tabling and outreach, while also being efficient and effective. So many of these skills came in handy at the food distribution site. There were a handful of us who had to step in, create systems and make snap decisions. There were also times I had to hold my tongue and moments when I got to bring a smile to people’s faces.


One example is my discovery of 6 pallets of propane tanks (GOLD!) behind a large container. I thought they were destined for another location. After an hour, I realized they had no other destination and no one else even knew they were sitting there. So it became my mission to get every propane tank off those pallets. Happy to say, mission accomplished! In addition, I've been building google forms and spreadsheets for Pacific Birth Collective, a local nonprofit that is specifically supporting displaced families and in particular pregnant and postpartum mothers. My family has been visiting the shelters and sourcing/distributing donations. We are doing all that we can from the other side of the island, but many times it just doesn't seem like enough. 

There is a collective grief that has encompassed our local community. Even my small children know that something is wrong but can’t comprehend what has happened. They just know that things aren’t "normal." The other day, after we visited one of the shelters to drop off supplies, my 4-year old was putting my shoes in bags and said she was going to give them to her friend "Mikayla." When I said that we didn’t need to give her my shoes, she said "But mom, look at all this stuff we have! Mikayla doesn’t have anything." I almost lost it. I have had a hard time writing this (I seem to cry a lot more now that I’m a mom...). The survivor stories are absolutely harrowing. There are still over 1,000 people missing and there is now drinking water contamination in parts of West Maui and Upcountry.

But there is also collective hope. Our Surfrider Maui Chapter has been group chatting every day. Our volunteers have been fostering additional animals from the Maui Humane Society, helping set up Starlink sites, running food distribution, shuttling supplies to the west side, sourcing donations, etc. The West Side in many ways is still cut off from the rest of the island. It has been incredible to see the water sports community come together to shuttle supplies in via the water.

Maui-Response-4Photo by: Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Now for the last update regarding donations: The Maui Chapter donated most of their swag and gear to the shelters and a group that was shuttling supplies via boat to the West Side. The needs change daily. Right now camp stoves, butane, prescriptions, VHF radios, and ice are critical. Tomorrow it will be something else. Power is slowly being restored to the West Side, so that helps with the cooking and food storage situations. We do not currently need more clothes. West Maui Leaders have asked for a pause in donations until better storage can be secured as most everything is sitting out in the open air or under 10x10 pop up tents. Unless someone has specialized skills, we do not need volunteers flying to Maui either. We have an endless supply of community members to help. If you do have specialized skills and want to donate your time, please sign up through the Red Cross website and utilize their volunteer system. 

We really need people to donate money to the organizations identified below:

Hawaii Community Foundation: The Hawaii Office of the Governor has directed donors to the Hawaii Community Foundation, which is being used for communities affected by the wildfires.

Lahui Foundation:

Maui Mutual Aid: accepting donations to support Maui families, elderly residents, people with disabilities and those with limited or no insurance.  

As the needs change over the next days/weeks/months, I will continue to keep our Surfrider family and supporters updated. 

We’re on a world stage right now, and I am proud of how our island has shown the power of aloha and community. This island has shaped me in so many ways. I owe it so much. Yet I am still a visitor to these lands, and my heart hurts for the native Hawaiian community who has lost irreplaceable cultural sites, traditional stewards, and history.