With the help of local friends and family, custom home builder Luis Soltren was able to make the holidays better for 100 local children this year — something residents can see for themselves on Dickie Chang’s Wala‘au this week.
Dec. 20 marked the 18th annual Soltren’s Special Children program, in which musical instruments, TVs and stereos were given away to needy kids at the Aloha Beach Resort.
Highlights from the event will be featured on Wala‘au at noon, 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and midnight today, Thursday and Saturday, shortly after the Waimea Christmas Parade, Chang said.
In addition to enjoying opening presents, children feasted on Happy Meals and slices from 30 pizzas, all donated from McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.
There also was an abundance of cookies and cake contributed by the hotel, Soltren said.
However, despite of all the desserts and toys, this year’s event was bittersweet for Soltren, who is mourning a friend who was killed in May. Soltren dedicated the night of gift-giving to his friend’s memory.
Soltren’s friend, former Kaua‘i resident John Elwin, died while vacationing in the Philippines on May 14.
This Christmas was especially hard because it was the first one without him, Soltren said.
“John was like a brother to me. He was part of the Soltren family,” Soltren said. “He was truly missed this Christmas.”
Mayor Bryan Baptiste, former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, Kaua‘i County Council Vice Chairman James Tokioka, councilman Jay Furfaro and other community leaders showed their continued support for this year’s event, Soltren said.
Other residents and members of the business community who helped included Jeff Mira, Eleanor Masuda, Denise Tripoli, Dr. Allan Johnson, Mike Keppel, Mark Ozaki of the Kaua‘i Police Department and Chad Hefner, a friend who helped load and unload toys, and Kmart manager Jarett Chytka.
But Soltren also said he wanted to thank KPD and those who supported finding answers surrounding Elwin’s death, which led to “bringing John home.”
That includes friends Jerry Johnson and Lenny Rapozo, and Elwin’s girlfriend, Kirsten Flood, who, Soltren said, “remained true to John.”