NAWILIWILI — Christmas was celebrated Friday, but the Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank continued to give Monday morning when Kelvin Moniz, KIFB executive director, presented Jocelyn Barriga, the Special Olympics Kaua‘i coordinator, with 125 gift cards valued at $40 each for the island’s Special Olympic athletes.
“I know,” Moniz said. “Christmas was Friday, but it’s still the season of giving. The Special Olympic athletes have little, or nothing to celebrate with so we’re hoping that these gift cards from Ross Dress for Less will enable them to enjoy the holidays, too.”
Funds for the special gift cards presented came from an anonymous donor who, after learning of the food and fund drive hosted by the island’s credit unions and coordinated by Terri Kaniho of the Gather Federal Credit Union, called Kaniho, advising them in early December of his desire to donate $18,000 as a match to the credit unions’ efforts.
“You folks are the heroes,” the donor said via a Zoom meeting Monday. “You put in all the work. It’s easy to contribute and make it possible for you folks to do the work.”
The contribution to the food bank was made special when the Special Olympic athletes, and Team Unified members introduced themselves to the donor and the KIFB board members Lloyd Kajikawa and Donna King.
“I had a 15-year-old son,” the donor said. “He couldn’t walk or talk. He passed, recently. Every human has equal value, and this is important. As people realize this, we’ll have better communities.”
Barriga said the pandemic has been especially trying for the athletes who miss coming together and competing.
“These cards are a wonderful way for us to reach them,” she said.
Alita Smith, recently announced as a state Outstanding Athlete and nominated by Barriga, was thrilled to be present and introduce herself to the donor.
“During the pandemic, a lot of programs and events came to a halt,” said Leona Sa McDermott, a Special Olympics Kaua‘i coach. “Alita volunteers alongside her mother Gail in sewing masks for Kaua‘i organizations. That kept Alita busy and in tune with social life, but there is one that that stood out the most — in April, Special Olympics Kaua‘i was blessed to receive fruits and vegetables from ‘Aina Ho‘okupu o Kilauea. These were delivered every Thursday from April to September. Alita and her mom would head to the stadium, off-load the truck, sort and hand out boxes of vegetables and fruits to the Special Olympic Kaua‘i athletes and their ‘ohana. Alita took the initiative to hand the drive-by deliveries by crossing their names off the checklist as they picked up their boxes.”
Sa McDermott said what makes Alita an Outstanding Athlete, is “no matter what the circumstances she’s faced with, or any of the current conditions we now call ‘the new normal,’ Alita would adapt to all of them.”
Larry Yasuda, the father of a Special Olympic athlete, was also recognized as a state Hall of Famer.
“As Head of Delegation (Special Olympics), Larry made it his priority that AHK boxes of produce were delivered to Kaua‘i Storm athletes and their families by himself,” Sa McDermott said. “With the social distance guidelines in effect, Larry was able to make the connection with his athletes and families, check to see how they were doing, inform them of any upcoming food distributions around the island, and sharing the Special Olympics Hawai‘i Zoom events. He is not only a parent of an athlete but a true mentor to everyone.”
David Braman, a member of Team Unified at the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, was among the string of athletes getting to meet the anonymous donor through zoom.
“You are the future,” the donor said after learning of the workings of Team Unified. “The future is in your hands.”