Oprah and Dwayne Johnson Give $10 Million to Help Maui Wildfire Victims

Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne Johnson have donated $10 million to help establish a fund that will give direct cash assistance to Maui residents displaced by catastrophic wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes on the island, they said on Thursday.

The new effort, called the People’s Fund of Maui, is offering payments of $1,200 per month to adults whose homes were destroyed or made uninhabitable by the wildfires in Lahaina and Kula this month. The assistance is available to both homeowners and renters, but not to property owners who do not live in homes they own.

The fund aims to “put money directly in the hands of those individuals most affected,” Mr. Johnson, the actor and former wrestler known as “The Rock” who is partly of Polynesian descent and grew up for a time in Hawaii, said in a statement.

“People being able to have their own agency, being able to make decisions for themselves about what they need and what their family needs — that’s our goal,” Ms. Winfrey added in a video on Instagram. She promised that the public’s donations to the fund would go directly to victims.

The fund is the latest nongovernmental effort to help survivors of the wildfires. Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered survivors an immediate payment of $700 for critical needs like food and water, among other forms of aid, West Maui residents have said more that help is needed faster and that ad hoc networks of volunteers were doing more than federal and local agencies.

Many Native Hawaiians and other longtime residents have said they fear they may not be able to afford to rebuild their lives on an island that already had a housing shortage, before the wildfires burned down more than 2,000 structures and forced thousands of people into emergency shelters.

Some workers who keep Maui’s booming tourism industry running have also been priced out by wealthy buyers from the mainland, including billionaires like Peter Thiel, Jeff Bezos and Ms. Winfrey. She has lived in Maui part-time for more than 15 years and bought 870 acres of land in Kula for nearly $6.6 million earlier this year, according to the local news site Maui Now.

Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Johnson said that they created the People’s Fund of Maui under the guidance of community residents and leaders, including the prominent singer Kealiʻi Reichel, who was born in Lahaina, and Hōkūlani Holt, a community leader and kumu hula, or hula teacher.

In the days after the wildfires, Ms. Holt led a series of traditional Hawaiian ceremonies seeking to bring spiritual healing to the island. Ms. Winfrey quietly attended one.

Ed Suwanjindar, a Kula resident who is the head of marketing and community for Airbnb’s nonprofit arm, the talent manager Shep Gordon and the actor Jason Momoa, who is of Hawaiian descent, also helped create the fund, according to the statement.

source: nytimes.com