LAHAINA, Hawaii —More than 70 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers first responders on the island of Maui are aiding with the combined federal response mission for the Hawaii Wildfires. They will not spend the holidays with their families and friends. However, that doesn’t mean they are not in the holiday spirit.
Adrienne Bostic is one of those 70. She is on the island, helping with the recovery mission. Bostic walked out of her Maui hotel one morning in November and saw a display of artificial flowers with the names and ages of children written on them to donate toys. The children had lost everything in the wildfires. Adrienne was moved to help.
“My main goal for this deployment was to help the people of Maui, and what better way than to help families and provide a Christmas for the children who lost everything,” said Bostic, who is an emergency management specialist from the Nashville District. “I took about six flowers and brought them into the Recovery Field Office, and the toy drive began.”
Over the next several weeks, the USACE team at the RFO in Kihei collected toys for the Pua Melia Christmas toy drive that was done in partnership with the Maui Ocean Center. Everyone in the RFO had been working 12-hour days, seven days a week for 30- or 60-day rotations on the wildfire cleanup mission, but individuals in the RFO was able to amass more than 70 toys for the children of Maui affected by the disaster.
“There were many gifts donated for the cause, and you have to thank the RFO team for contributing to this endeavor,” said RFO Deputy Jerry Breznican, who is the emergency management chief at the Nashville District. “It took four people to carry the gifts to Adrienne’s car, and they filled up the trunk, the back seat, and the passenger seat. There were a lot of toys and other items.”
All recovery missions affect USACE responders, and this one is no different. It brings out the humanitarian side of the volunteers who just wanted to help those impacted return to normal. On Maui, there has also been an emphasis on the heritage and culture of the island, and responders have attended cultural awareness classes to broaden their understanding of Hawaiian culture. They have learned that Aloha is more than just saying hello. It’s a way of living. Mahalo is more than just a thank you. It expresses gratitude. They have adopted the meaning of Ohana, which means family, referring to the RFO team as a USACE Ohana. For Bostic, the toy drive dovetailed into that philosophy.
“The true meaning of Ohana was shown,” said Bostic. “I could not believe how many of our members donated to show the people of Lahaina and Kula we are here for you with open arms.”
It is a small gesture to the children and their families who lost everything in the wildfires, but USACE first responders wanted to bring some joy to them during the holidays. USACE will be on Maui after the holidays to continue the mission providing debris removal, temporary housing, and critical facilities for the federal, state and local recovery.
Note: Following the August 2023 Hawaii Wildfires in Kula and Lahaina, the Federal Emergency Agency tasked USACE with managing the debris removal, temporary housing, and critical public facilities missions.