WAILUA — For one evening, Kaua’i custom home-builder Luis Soltren was hailed by hundreds of gleeful children and county government leaders as Kaua’i’s one and only true Santa Claus.
He quickly let anyone who would listen know that he knows he can’t do it alone.
The children and their parents, Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste, former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, Kaua’i County Council Vice Chairman James Tokioka and other community leaders like Marilyn Wong, applauded Soltren’s generosity, his humanitarian streak, and his love for Kaua’i children, for putting on the 16th Annual Soltren’s Bikes for Special Children program at the Aloha Beach Resort-Kauai Tuesday night.
With the help of friends, Soltren, his brother and business partner, Eddie Soltren, and others, gave away 76 bicycles, helmets, television sets, stereos, and DVDs to children.
Baptiste said the kindness and generosity that members of the Soltren family have shown Kaua’i children for so many years is unprecedented, and urged every child to “give a hug” to Luis Soltren before they left the event.
“You have to show gratitude for these wondrous acts of kindness,” Baptiste said. “Luis Soltren has been doing this unselfishly for 16 years. And the kids from Kaua’i have benefited.”
Kusaka, who supported Soltren during her eight years in office between 1995 to 2004, said, “We all know who the hero is. So be grateful to this man, and say a prayer.”
Tokioka, who came to the event with his son Pono to show support for Soltren’s project, said the “guy is incredible.”
“The county really supports Luis, but the commitment to make Christmas a special occasion for Kaua’i children is incredible,” Tokioka said.
When one makes friends with Soltren, “nothing but good things happen to you,” Tokioka said. “You do so much for the county, and we love you.”
Soltren and his friends who put on the yearly toy giveaway have given hundreds of bicycles and gifts to children of Kaua’i over the years.
Through it all, Soltren said he didn’t want any credit, and instead gave credit to others, including representatives of scores of businesses, including Kmart, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Otsuka’s of Kapa’a, and other companies who sold goods to him at discounted prices, or gave away goods as gifts.
“I am just one guy who is part of this thing,” said Soltren, a Wailua resident who was accompanied by members of his family.
The lobby of the hotel was turned into Santa’s toy shop for one magical night.
Children were greeted by twinkling lights and packaged gifts that sat in the corners of the lobby, and dozens of multicolored bicycles, a few with training wheels for the tykes, all of which led to a Christmas tree that rose to at least 15 feet and was heavily bedecked with lights and ornaments.
Soltren praised Kmart leaders for selling the bicycles to him at a discounted price and not charging for the assembly of the bicycles.
Leaders with Ace Hardware Kauai in Lihu’e gave 70 helmets at no charge, Soltren said.
“Lassie,” “Our Gang,” “Casper (the Friendly Ghost),” and “Gilligan’s Island” DVDs sat prominently in boxes that were ready to be given away.
Santa Claus, Mrs. Santa Claus, and Santa’s helper, Bill Henning, his wife, Flora and their daughter, Hoku, respectively, heightened the event with their presence, helping to pass out the gifts.
Davin Nobriga, owner of Quicksilva Boxing in Hanama’ulu, his 5-year-old son Dawson, Nobriga’s wife, Rose, and grandparents David and Allison Nobriga, all from Hanama’ulu, were invited to the toy giveaway for the first time, and didn’t know what to expect.
But they were glad to participate in a yearly event that celebrates the happiness of children.
“It is great he is giving back to the community,” Rose Nobriga said.
Allison Nobriga said Soltren is a role model for Kaua’i children. “I think it is great that he is doing this for the kids,” she said.
Bill Wong of Wainiha was accompanied by his 13-year-old son and three grandchildren. He said Soltren’s love for children “is pretty awesome.”
Eddie Soltren said he hopes Tuesday-night’s event will spur children to give when they become adults.
“Sixteen years go, we decided to do this,” Eddie Soltren said. “It is a way we show we care about the community. My brother has always had a big heart.”
What is Luis Soltren’s motivation for doing what he does?
“My father was a needy kid growing up in New York, and he said he got inspired by a guy in New York who gave gifts during Christmas,” said Luis Soltren Jr., a 13-year-old student at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School who has attended the family toy giveaway project since he was 3 years old.
He said he wants to keep his father’s project going when he becomes a young adult, because of all the happiness it brings to children. “Definitely, I would like to continue his tradition,” he said.
For the first time this year, Luis Soltren recognized Kauaians for leadership and mentoring services to island youths. The Kauaians who received trophies were:
- Kaleo Lopez, Kaeo Lopez, Carl Ragaza, Pono Pananganan, and Eugene Ancheta, all watersafety officers with the Kaua’i Fire Department Ocean Safety Bureau and jujitsu teachers; Norman Hunter, another county lifeguard; Kenn Firestone, a karate teacher; Mark Ozaki, a Kaua’i Police Department officer who coaches boxing; Kyle Sukehira, who teaches jujitsu; Bruno Ewald, who teaches jujitsu, and Davin Nobriga, who teaches boxing.
Bowls went to Baptiste, Kusaka, Kaua’i County Councilman Jay Furfaro and his wife, Beverly; Ron Wiley, a radio personality, Dickie Chang, a television personality; Jerrod Chytka and Sandy Higa, Kmart representatives; Mike Kepple; Randy Boyer; Tony Keala; Ron Kikumoto; Otsuka’s; Bruce Smalling; Pizza Hut Waipouli; Container Homes Supply; Kukui Electric; Tokioka; Haz Marble & Tile; McDonald’s of Kauai; Derek Inouye; The Home Depot; and Dr. Allan Johnson.
Soltren also recognized Kaua’i County Councilman Jay Furfaro for helping with the building of affordable housing for Kaua’i’s needy families, through his affiliation with Habitat for Humanity.
Furfaro, a Habitat for Humanity Kauai board member, got Soltren involved in the Habitat for Humanity movement.
Soltren said he once was on a build site with Furfaro, who was cutting a board with one hand and cooking chicken with the other.
Also attending the event was longtime community leader, Marilyn Wong, and her husband, Ed Keoho, a retired Kaua’i Police officer from Kapa’a.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or email@example.com