GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan woman is trying to give back to her new home in Maui after wildfires impacted her friends and devastated their community.
Becky Thomason has been living in upcountry Maui for a year and a half and has seen firsthand the devastation that the wildfires have caused, not just to the environment and structures, but to the people on the island.
“We did wake up to alarms on our phones at 4 a.m., telling us that certain neighborhoods were evacuating, um, our apartment was filled with smoke. There was a lot going on,” Thomason, who is from Kalamazoo, said.
Thomason said she saw her friends and new home suffer after wildfires broke out on the island, killing hundreds of people, and wanted to do something to help.
“You have a lot of displaced children amidst the chaos that need caring for and need nurturing and need fun basically, to try to keep their mind off of what’s going on around them. So I took Rapunzel to a few shelters,” Thomason said.
Thomason began her journey with Rapunzel when she was in Grand Rapids. She decided to pack up an extra suitcase for her when she moved to Maui but didn’t know when she would ever get Rapunzel back out.
“As I started volunteering at the shelters and saw the level to which the community needed more moral support, it was a no-brainer to me. I just knew that I should be bringing my talents and what I’m good at to the equation and help people with the mental relief,” Thomason said.
She brings Rapunzel to community events and shelters, to help give kids and adults a break from reality.
“It’s really just them feeling that connection and care that Rapunzel brings and also she gives them that mental break and just brings a little bit of brightness, magic and sunshine into their life when they’re in these shelters surrounded by mountains of collections of donations and people that just look exhausted,” Thomason said.
She said Maui depends on tourists, but right now the island feels empty. She said there is a lot of talk from the community about how to handle the tourism industry moving forward.
“Most tourists have left out of respect or concern for what’s going on here. So it’s very quiet. I have a lot of friends that work in the tourism industry who’ve already been laid off because things have gotten so quiet,” Thomason said.
She said some people don’t want tourists back, while others said the island needs them back soon. Thomason said she would like tourists to come back to Maui in a couple of months to give the community time to grieve and recover, but when they do return, she has a solution.
“My hope is that when people travel to Hawaii when people travel to Maui, consider taking half a day, a day of your trip, and volunteering for your community because that’s powerful,” Thomason said.
She also said if you can, the people of Maui need help getting resources not only for now but for the future.
“People need therapy resources. They need resources to pay for housing right now. They need resources for continued food opportunities, food storage. There’s just so many things,” Thomason said.
She has been working to compile a spreadsheet of different organizations and businesses that people can donate to on her Instagram page. She warns people to make sure to do their research before donating to someone’s GoFundMe or other fundraising page.
Thomason volunteers through the nonprofit organization Nā Keiki O Emalia. Thomason said she wants to continue with Rapunzel, helping her community and cheering up kids and adults with Rapunzel.