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Big Island Giving Tree helps families, seniors in need this Christmas

For a surprisingly high number of families in North Hawaii, there will be no presents under the Christmas tree this year. Many parents are still either out of work, or are battling illness or low wages and are struggling just to put food on the table and a roof over their family’s head.

To help spread aloha and bring Christmas to families, seniors and the homeless in need, Rhonda Bell and the other volunteers at the Big Island Giving Tree will again come to the rescue. For the second year as their own independent program, they will offer their Adopt-a-Family Program to families in need, supply seniors throughout the island with Christmas Day dinners and gifts, and also bring Christmas Day meals to people who are homeless and living on beaches.

For the second year, the Christopher Nance Children’s Foundation is the Big Island Giving Tree’s fiscal partner. The foundation charges the Big Island Giving Tree no administrative costs. The Waimea Community Association also sponsors the project as well as many other community organizations and businesses. Parker Ranch Center offers the Big Island Giving Tree free space from Dec. 5 through Dec. 20 for donation drop offs and for families to apply to the program.

On Christmas Day, with the help of Sansei Restaurant in the Waikoloa Queens Shops, Bell said she and the volunteers hope to help bring hot meals of turkey and all the fixings, as well as bags filled with groceries and new blankets to more than 350 seniors in five senior housing facilities in Honokaa, Waimea and Kohala, and three in Kona. This is Sansei Restaurant’s fourth year helping to cook senior meals on Christmas Day.

“We have our volunteers year in and year out who help us plate up the food and deliver to the senior housing,” Bell said. “After that, we take it to the beach.”

Last year alone, the Big Island Giving Tree helped bring Christmas to more than 70 families across the island – supplying them with food, clothing and other necessities, as well as Christmas gifts for their children. Bell said that their goal this year is to serve 80 to 100 families through their Adopt-a-Family Program, in addition to the 350 seniors with Christmas Day meals.

“My heart is for the seniors because my girlfriend Gina opened my eyes to what the seniors are going through,” Bell said. “Their social security has been limited and, as of Oct. 1 of this year, their food stamps were lessened. Every year is a different year, but the seniors always struggle.”

Through the Big Island Giving Tree, either individuals or organizations can help by adopting a whole family, donating needed items, or giving monetary donations or gift cards for volunteers to purchase the items for them. If an organization or an individual adopts a family, the donors are given a wish list with ages, sizes and needs of family members. This year, Bell said they are adding an Adopt-a-Child option, in case families are only able to help one individual.

According to Bell, the reason the program is so successful, is that families can only benefit from the program once. Bell said that helping families that are truly in need is an incredibly rewarding experience.

“I screen every application and I just don’t service anybody,” she said. “That really makes a difference — when people know that their funds and their goods are going to the appropriate kind of families that really need it.”

Bell said that for her and for the regular volunteers with the Big Island Giving Tree, giving up Christmas morning and much of December to help those in need is exactly what the season is about.

“The reward for me is when the families that we helped the previous year, come back and ask, ‘How can we help?’” Bell said. “Also the fact that my children learn these values and learn to appreciate things a little bit more.”

Applications for the Big Island Giving Tree are available from Nov. 18 through Dec. 11. To apply for help from the Big Island Giving Tree, call Bell at 880-1984. To adopt a family or to donate food, toys, clothing items or gift cards, call Bell or Nancy Carr Smith at 896-2239.

You can also help by holding a food or toy drive in your place of business, school or church. Checks can be made payable to: “Christopher Nance Children’s Foundation,” with “Big Island Giving Tree” in the memo line. Send to P.O. Box 2786, Kamuela, HI, 96743.