People In Need Here At Home

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - March 30, 2011
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One of the indelible impressions during the recent tsunami alert here in Hawaii: homeless people being rousted from their tents and campsites to move to higher ground. It was a reminder to us that no matter what else is happening in the world, there are still many here who need our help.

Jennifer Fonseca understands what a little, or a lot, of help can do for a family. Jennifer is a strong, honest woman who knows she has a lot to be thankful for. Her husband Robert is working. Their three children are in school. They have a roof over their heads and food to eat.

It wasn’t always so. Not too long ago, the Fonsecas lived in a van because they couldn’t find an apartment they could afford. They camped at Kahana Bay, Makapuu and Kahaluu - wherever they could until forced to move on. They would have been one of those families forced to move during the recent evacuations.

Fonseca was worried not just because they were homeless, but also because she was afraid her children would get used to the lifestyle. They loved living on the beach. To them, it was an adventure, like camping all year round. But Jennifer and Robert knew better. They didn’t want their kids growing up and thinking this was the right way to live. The situation terrified them, and they knew they couldn’t afford to give up.

Robert worked at the Hawaii State Hospital at the time. When he had the day shift “we would stay at the beach until he came back.”

But when he worked the night shift he brought them all to the hospital with him. Jennifer says she and the kids slept in the van on hospital grounds because Robert didn’t want them alone on the beach at night.

“If he had to work overnight we stayed with him ‘cuz no way he would leave us by ourselves.”

Adding to their harrowing existence was the omnipresent worry: Will we have enough food?

“It was hard, there were times when we didn’t even know what we would feed the kids,” Jennifer says.

The family’s plight finally came to the attention of her daughter’s teacher, who told them about Hawaii Foodbank. That’s probably what saved them from starvation. Finally, Jennifer says, “we had canned goods. And we had rice.”

Even with the Foodbank’s help, “It was hard. Hard to eat well,” but at least now they had the basics. They kept the food in two big plastic bins in the van. One for the canned goods, one for the rice. They had a portable stove and paper plates. Robert would try to cook before he left for work because Jennifer doesn’t barbecue.

The hardship took a toll on them, but they knew they had to keep fighting.

Finally, they found an organization called Family Promise, which made sure they had a roof over their heads, putting them up in churches, a different one every day. Eventually the organization helped them find a low-rent apartment.

They are better off, Jennifer says, but still struggling. Jennifer says the kids hate living in the housing, but she tells them they all have to stick together and make it work.

Jennifer is all too aware that there are families out there who aren’t as lucky. She is fiercely, deeply grateful for the second chance, and for the help she received from local organizations like Family Promise and Hawaii Foodbank. Right now many businesses and government employees are holding food drives to contribute to Hawaii Foodbank’s annual push that culminates in April. I hope yours is, and if not, you can go to to learn how to participate. Let’s not forget that people need us - right here in our own backyard.

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