Children with life-threatening illnesses treated to holiday food & fun

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

WAIPIO (HawaiiNewsNow) - The holiday season can be a difficult time for seriously-ill children and their families. On Sunday night, a non-profit group teamed up with a restaurant chain to help lift the spirits of dozens of Hawaii families.

The support group HUGS says families with a child with a life-threatening illness may feel overwhelmed emotionally and financially during this time of year. On Sunday, about 40 families were treated to food and festivities so they wouldn't feel alone.

From a visit with Stitch to a stand full of candy, it was a feast for the eyes and tummies of all the special guests.

At the lei-making table was 10-year-old Kamalani, who knows a thing or two about needles. The courageous fifth grader is in her second bout with leukemia, and has had seven hospital stays in the past year.

"To get away from the hospital and all the problems of being sick and coming to an event like this is just real special to our family," Felix Aetonu, Kamalani's father, said.

The non-profit HUGS -- which stands for Help, Understanding and Group Support -- threw this pre-Thanksgiving party for families who have experienced or are currently caring for a child with a life-threatening illness.

"Many of them have been deeply impacted by mounting medical bills and other out-of-pocket expenses," Donna Witsell, HUGS executive director, said. "So even some of the things that the rest of us could do during the holidays, they no longer have the funds to do."

It's the third year in which Zippy's Restaurants has sponsored this holiday gathering, providing the food and the volunteers. The company says it's inspired by the strength of the kids as they face physical and emotional hardships.

"It's amazing the fortitude that they have," Jason Higa, Zippy's chief executive officer, said. "We all know, I think, that children just have such a great ability to make it through challenges that as adults we find overwhelming."

For Kamalani, the party offered many chances to smile.

"Taking pictures, seeing all my friends from HUGS, come here and just enjoy," she said.

About half of the children HUGS provides services to have some form of cancer.

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