It’s never too early to get into the holiday spirit.

Just ask Melissa Smith and Elizabeth Wood of Coldwell Banker Island Properties. They kicked off the season of giving in late October when they started planning a toy drive for children and teens staying at Women Helping Women’s emergency shelter and Ka Hale A Ke Ola (KHAKO) Homeless Resource Centers in Wailuku and Lahaina.

It’s the second time Smith and Wood have collected toys for those in need. They came up with the idea last year while serving meals at KHAKO’s Wailuku location. (Realtors Association of Maui members volunteer at the shelter every month; Debra Merle of Island Sotheby’s International Realty spearheaded the dinners in 1989.)

One mid-November evening, as they prepared meals in the KHAKO kitchen, Smith and Wood learned there would be 100 children staying at the shelter during the holidays. “It touched our hearts,” Wood said. “We both agreed we had to do something.”

That’s when the pair concocted a plan: they decided to collect 100 toys for each child at the shelter. In the days that followed, they rounded up gifts, and to their surprise and delight, they exceeded their goal—they had gathered 200 toys in just a few short weeks.

A few days before Christmas, Smith and Wood loaded up their cars and drove to KHAKO. There, they delivered the bounty of toys to executive director Monique Yamashita, who, until that moment, had harbored concerns there wouldn’t be enough gifts for the kids. “It felt really good…because it was the right thing to do,” Smith said. “It was the best part of our Christmas.”

So much, in fact, that she and Wood made an on-the-spot pledge to Yamashita. “We promised her we’d continue to do it every year,” Smith said.

And they’ve kept their word. Since early November, Smith and Wood have been busily stockpiling new, unwrapped gifts for kids of all ages (from infants to toddlers to tweens to teens) in Wood’s living room-turned-Santa’s workshop. To keep things organized and to ensure everyone receives a gift, each item is labeled with a blue tag (handmade by Smith and her children) that indicates the corresponding recipient’s age, gender and shelter location.

This time around, Smith and Wood started early and expanded their efforts to include the more than two dozen children at Women Helping Women’s emergency shelter—in addition to the nearly 170 youth currently residing at KHAKO’s two shelters.

There’s still time to contribute to the toy drive. Smith and Wood will be collecting items until Thursday, Dec. 13; toys are still needed for three age groups: infants, 1- and 2-year-olds, and 7-year-olds. To donate, contact Smith at 298-6810 or Wood at 385-8888. Or, you can drop off a new, unwrapped gift (worth at least $20 and tagged with the corresponding age range and gender) at any Coldwell Banker Island Properties office, with the lone exception of the Lahaina office.

And true to their word, Smith said, “We will do this again next year—and every year.”

KHAKO is a comprehensive resource center that prepares families and individuals for permanent housing while providing emergency shelter, counseling services, addiction recovery management and adult education and training, as well as a primary care medical clinic and childcare facilities. The nonprofit organization underwent a paradigm shift last year, redirecting its focus to breaking the cycle of homelessness by finding and maintaining permanent housing for its residents.

Women Helping Women provides crisis intervention and support services for direct and indirect victims of domestic violence on Maui and Lanai. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to end domestic violence through advocacy, education and prevention, while offering safety and support to those impacted by domestic violence. Every year, Women Helping Women helps close to 1,500 women, men and children impacted by domestic violence.

To learn more about KHAKO or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit www.khako.org or call 242-7600. For more information about Women Helping Women, visit womenhelpingwomenmaui.com, email info@whwmaui.net or call the main office at 242-6600. If you or someone you know needs help, call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 579-9581.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – December 8, 2018

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