Cultivating Compassion With Generosity
Many families strive, if they can, to make Christmas morning magical, with bright-eyed children pleasantly surprised with their new toys and clothes when opening presents. The sweet smell of Christmas includes the aroma of rosemary, thyme and garlic spices filling the air with a savory turkey or ham roasting in the oven. We enjoy mouth-watering scents of holiday cookies, and being surrounded by family members singing Christmas carols and flashing great big smiles.
Perhaps this describes a rerun of an Osmond family television special, but for Kaimuki resident Mai Kapuaoihilani Mei Lin Hall, her 1993 Christmas morning was anything but joyous.
“We didn’t have the thrill of unwrapping presents that year.
My dad had just left my mother, my two older sisters and me. Mom had to sell everything, including my favorite art easel,” Mai recalls painfully.
With her beloved mother out of a job, the 9-year-old and her family had to live in a car for a short while until close friends took them in.
“We were homeless for a time. Holidays were depressing because I couldn’t get any ‘wants,’ and sometimes the ‘needs’ were in short supply,” she says.
During these difficult times, she would experience several acts of kindness from some very special people that she’s never forgotten, and she vowed that she would always try to help the less fortunate in our community.
“Because I have been through hardships and have walked a rocky path, I am more motivated to help others live fruitful lives. I’ve started a ministry at church, where I meet with folks to go over paperwork and state applications to help them go through the process,” says Mai.
She points people in the right direction and provides them with the support and resources they need to do more than just survive, but thrive.
“I remember food and clothing were my top needs as a homeless child. They still are for many children in Hawaii, so we try our best to reach out to providers in the community and partner with folks to see how we can provide more food or clothing for the keiki during Christmas.”
The Kaimuki mother of two started a Christmas tradition in 2003, when her daughter Amaris was born.
“I promised her that she would never know hunger, wear puka clothes or take cold showers. The tradition of giving was sparked by my mom, who took me out as a teenager to shelters and food pantries to serve meals to the homeless. She taught me that there are others who have it worse.”
One year, when Mai was doing exceptionally well at a job, she adopted an entire family and took them out shopping. The mother was undergoing domestic violence in her home. She had two children.
“We took them to Kmart and Foodland, and bought them food, clothes, toys and shoes. It was amazing for her and for us,” explains Mai — especially for Amaris, who had a blast helping the woman’s daughter pick out clothes and encouraged her to get more.
The Christmas tradition of giving to children on the streets and to those who are less fortunate has rubbed off on Mai’s husband Jason, children Amaris (11) and Tiberius (2), and Amaris’ Iolani classmates. This year, her daughter’s sixth-grade class is kicking off a “Socks for Tots” benefit to assist children in Kakaako and the Waianae coast.
Explains Mai, “We collected socks and made Christmas cards for those children. We are super stoked to share our tradition with them and their parents. A simple gift of socks means the world to homeless keiki.”
One year, Mai decorated T-shirts with students from Na Pua No‘eau, a center for Hawaiian children. One of the shirts, which displayed the word “HOPE,” was given to a 10-year-old girl in Waianae, who lived on the beach with her mom.
The girl wrote a thank-you note, saying how much she loved her new shirt and how she would trace the word “HOPE” every night with her fingers before she went to sleep because she knew someone wrote it on her shirt just for her.
Mai’s family also has adopted several ‘ohana through Lokahi Keiki O Ka ‘Aina, which delivers wrapped presents to children who live in shelters or on the streets, and serves meals to families living in the cold. She has warmed the hearts of participants in various groups, including Partners in Development Foundation’s Ka Pa‘alana Homeless Family Education Program, and Homeless Outreach on the Waianae coast, to name a few.
The Kaimuki resident’s advice to all this holiday season: “It is important to respect life. With respect for life comes love and care. I’m not looking for a pat on the back for what I do, but rather to show others that they can and should be caring for one another.”
If we follow Mai’s beaming example and participate in caring for our neighbors, our Hawaii would certainly be a better place. Take it from a woman who subscribes to the Dalai Lama’s motto: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
May we lose ourselves in the service of others this Christmas season and, like Mai, take joy in the gift of giving to those in need.