Tuesday | July 26, 2016
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Spending spree: Donors, volunteers help 50 West Hawaii children get ready for school

Seven-year-old Moetaale Feala Jr. barreled down the aisles of Target in Kailua-Kona Wednesday morning toward his mark: new clothes for school.

His two helpers — Neicy Nelson of Kona and 9-year-old Washington resident Ayla Messner — delightfully manned the red shopping cart and a calculator to keep track of the Honaunau Elementary School second-grader’s purchases. Most of the items had stripes, a fact that the trio agreed was awesome.

Feala was one of 50 West Hawaii children chosen for the fourth annual back-to-school shopping spree — an event presented by Target and The Salvation Army. The retailer donated more than $4,000 so each child had an $81 gift card to spend on much-needed school supplies and related items.

The partnership is part of a $1 million nationwide effort to help needy children gear up for the upcoming academic year. From July 15 to Aug. 15, shopping sprees will occur at nearly 500 Target stores, including one Saturday in Hilo. In Hawaii, 300 kindergarten through 12th-grade students are being helped, said Lt. Michael Stack of the Salvation Army Kona Corps.

The event is an opportunity to give disadvantaged children the basics and confidence they need to succeed in academics. It’s a chance to make them feel happy and enthusiastic about going back to school, as well as loved and cared for by their community. These students will not worry about what they’ll wear on their backs or stuff in their bags on the first day of school. Nor will they be concerned about how they’ll fit in without new clothes or supplies, Stack said. “This is a big self-esteem booster,” he added.

Families applied for Wednesday’s shopping spree with the Salvation Army Kona Corps, which began publicizing the event roughly two weeks ago, mostly by distributing fliers throughout Kona. There were 60 applications from families who were dealing with health problems, unemployment, job loss, financial difficulties or personal issues, Stack said.

The volunteers included Target employees and Salvation Army staff, as well as members from various community groups. Stack said the volunteers are a gigantic help and the extra manpower allows the organization to spend its money on community service programs instead of staffing. According to him, 82 cents of every dollar The Salvation Army spends goes to such programs.

The shoppers were given free rein to spend the money as they wanted, as long as it was on things for school and not on toys. Some focused on the hottest trends in supplies while others stuck with the basics and items on their school checklist.

Roger Thomas, Target store team leader, has found volunteer experiences to be rewarding on a number of levels. The time and service is well-spent, adding “money can’t buy this kind of happiness and fulfilment.”

Thomas believes the best investments people can make are putting children on the path to success early and making sure they’re well-equipped for their educational pursuits.

Thomas described the annual event as “Christmas in summertime.” He praised The Salvation Army for doing a nice job in identifying who needs additional help the most. He admired how volunteer personal shoppers often pay for cost overruns out of their own pockets. Another moment that melts Thomas’ heart is when the children want to buy supplies for their siblings or other family members.

Ten-year-old Daytan Barawis appreciated having help from Gail North of Keauhou, who provided constant encouragement and kept him on budget throughout the “cool” spree. The Kahakai Elementary School fifth-grader was mostly interested in getting clothes and shoes. Though at the beginning of the event, Barawis said he was considering purchasing a calculator to help him with science — his favorite subject.

Kealakehe High School senior Makana Silva, 17, said the shopping spree was nice because it helps kids who do not have much. She said she admired the generosity of Target, The Salvation Army and volunteers, adding “they don’t have to do this, but wanted to help and made it fun.”

Sixteen-year-old junior Angel Perry thought it was “cool” and “really nice of everyone to do this shopping spree out of the kindness of their heart.” In her shopping cart were scissors, paper, binders, pens, highlighters and a protractor — the essentials for nine classes at Ka‘u High School. Perry plans to go to college and was excited to be going back to school. She hopes to someday become an artist, musician or veterinarian.