While news of wildfires destroying property and taking lives in Hawaii in the early days of August touched the hearts of many across the nation and around the world, the events 4,500 miles from Georgia felt very personal to Avondale Estates resident
. Kelley Chapman, her dear friend since their high school days in Georgia, had moved with her husband Vini to the very part of the island state being destroyed by wind and fire.
A phone call from Chapman’s mother assured Gilbert that her friends were alive, but there was little more information. “I knew they needed help, but I didn’t know how much. I set up a GoFundMe account with an initial goal of $15,000. Then I learned that the situation was far worse than I had thought. I soon received heartbreaking and devastating news,” Gilbert said. She learned that Chapman and her husband had lost everything because of the ongoing wildfires on the island of Maui. “The beautiful town of Lahaina where Kelley’s swimwear store, Manakai Swimwear, is located had been destroyed by the fires. In a moment’s time, her business, her home, everything they owned and have worked so hard for had been lost.”
When Gilbert got to talk with Chapman, the stories she heard were incredible. “They saw burning chunks of debris flying through the air at 60 miles per hour. They were fortunate to have escaped with their lives,” she said.
Josh Green, the governor of Hawaii, described the event this way in a news release: “We have suffered a terrible disaster in the form of a wildfire that has spread widely as hurricane-force winds in the region and underlying drought conditions Maui and the Big Island both experienced significant fires. Much of Lahaina on Maui has been destroyed and hundreds of local families have been displaced.”
Soon Gilbert’s friend called her sobbing. The news was even worse. Business had dropped off sharply during the pandemic and Chapman started cutting expenses wherever she could. One of the ways she saved money was to discontinue her insurance, which she said was prohibitively expensive. “Her home and her business were gone and her husband, who earned a living as a videographer, lost all of his equipment—some of it new and most of it very expensive,” Gilbert said.
She returned to GoFundMe and raised the goal to $50,000. “I think that’s the maximum you can ask for, but it won’t be nearly enough to restore their lives to where they were before,” Gilbert said. “The community where they lived was heavily dependent on tourism and it will be long time before that comes back. Kelley had a great little swimwear shop where the products were manufactured sustainably. ‘Sustainable’ is a buzz word now—you hear it everywhere—but she was doing it before it became trendy.”
A spokesman for GoFundMe said that everything raised above the goal still goes to the beneficiary.
“These are really great people,” Gilbert said. “We continued to be close friends after they moved to Hawaii although I couldn’t visit as much as I wanted to. I understand that they have been working hard to help their neighbors who have suffered great losses even though they have lost so much themselves.”
GoFundMe reports that more than $22 million has been raised on GoFundMe to support the families, businesses, and communities impacted in Hawaii, and more than 175,000 donors have contributed from throughout the United States and 100 countries across the globe. Donors in Georgia have contributed more than $300,000.
On the GoFundMe fundraising site, Help Kelley & Vini who’ve lost home and business, Chapman said, “I can’t stop crying for our beautiful community. Big loss. But big love will get us through this nightmare.”
A GoFundMe spokesman said people can donate with confidence because the organization carefully vets all requests before accepting them. “GoFundMe also has the first and only donor protection guarantee in the fundraising industry,” the spokesman said.