Funding Lahaina fire survivors: How direct donations are helping this family survive

Hundreds of Maui wildfire survivors set up GoFundMe pages and Venmo accounts to receive money instantly and directly from donors.
Published: Sep. 17, 2023 at 11:49 AM HST|Updated: Sep. 17, 2023 at 3:42 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds of Maui wildfire survivors set up GoFundMe pages and Venmo accounts to receive money instantly and directly from donors.

Grassroots collective Help Maui Rise verifies and compiles accounts and shares survivor stories.

The Valencia family says it’s been a lifeline, as they wait for other forms of cash relief to arrive.

“We don’t have a home, obviously, but we still have to pay mortgage, that don’t stop. And we don’t have a job. I mean Kaimi went back couple days, obviously, my job is going to take a while because it’s right in the heart of the fire. Hoping her job soon, I mean that shopping center opened up already, but they still have to do all the smoke cleaning and all that stuff. So income is not as much as we were getting. I mean, we’re collecting unemployment, or I’m collecting unemployment, but it’s not, again, the income is not as much as we can cover,” said Chester Valencia, whose lived in Lahaina since he was 5 years old.

“That’s where the GoFundMe and the Venmo is really good because that money goes directly to the families that was impacted by this fire,” said his daughter Jachia, who along with her partner Kaimi and another family member, barely escaped the fire that engulfed their neighborhood and burned down their home.

While donations are flooding into Maui, survivors say what they really need is cash so they can buy everyday essentials.

For the Valencias, the cash is welcome relief as they try to figure out their next steps for housing. They were also approved for relief under the People’s Fund, started by Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne the Rock Johnson, which is expected to start sending out monthly payments next week.

“As far as like the housing goes, we have six dogs and that makes it a little bit more difficult for us versus a family that don’t have any pets or one small dog. That’s what makes it hard,” Chester said. “But these six dogs are our babies. We’re not separating from them. If I have to live in my truck with these six dogs, I will.”

On Aug. 8, Chester was at work at Lahaina Shores on Front Street when he saw flames and thick black smoke. He tried to drive back home near Safeway but was blocked by a police car who told him the fire had spread. Without cell phone service, Chester was forced to wait out the fire in Olowalu, while his family tried to save their house.

“We actually evacuated the six dogs. So we were separated like he said, and at the house, we were actually napping when the fire was happening,” Jachia recounted.

“This is actually the one that woke us up,” Jachia said, referring to her dog Haze. “He’s our first first baby so he’s the Papa Bear. He’s our protector.”

The family reunited three days after the fire. Chester is staying in a hotel with the help of FEMA, while his daughter and the dogs are staying with her partner’s family in Napili.

“It’s hard to find housing that will take six dogs, and it’s understandable. It’s six dogs,” she added.

“When people say why don’t you move to Las Vegas or California. I surf. I love the ocean. I love Lahaina. This is where I grew up. I have a lot of friends here and family and we want to just stay here,” Chester said.

“Time is, it feels like it stopped for us, like the trauma from hearing that your house burned down. And everything that you worked hard for, all the memories is gone, then finding out that the place you once knew, and you know where you grew up in Lahaina is destroyed,” Jachia said. “And then find out other people, your neighbors, your friends, your family, the uncle you said hi to at Foodland and auntie you waved to on Front Street, the lives taken from this fire. It’s heartbreaking. And trying to grieve while trying to find ourselves. Now we need to figure out our own identity because everything we once knew, you don’t know what it is anymore. It’s like you have to start brand new, but you take it day by day. And you grieve while trying to stay strong.”

“We’re Lahaina. Lahaina is not a place, it’s the people. And you have to know that even if you’re not ready to talk, there’s people like us that is going through the same thing,” Jachia added.

West Maui (including Napili, Kaanapali, Honokowai and Kapalua) is scheduled to reopen to tourism on October 8, with the exception of Lahaina.

When that happens, the Valencia family urges people to visit with respect and aloha. And they have this request for people driving by a memorial outside of Lahaina town.

“When you pass those crosses, it’s the super soldiers that perished from this fire. Beep your horn, let them know we’re still thinking on them,” Chester said.

You can donate to the Valencias on Venmo here or on GoFundMe here, and to more than 1,300 other families on Help Maui Rise’s verified list.

If you would like to be added to this list, go to

Meet more survivors who need help here.