Share Aloha for Marco Polo Fire Victims: Our Hawaii Diary

THE MARCO POLO APARTMENTS:  A 36-story wave shaped condominium building overlooking the Ala Wai Canal near Waikiki.

Firefighters are at the scene of a five-alarm fire on Kapiolani Boulevard.

KHON2 News report on the fire's aftermath with interviews

EVENTS DURING DAYS 1 TO 4 (Friday to Monday):  In the early afternoon of July 14th, the smartphone news alerts began rolling in about a seven alarm fire raging on the 26th floor of a thirty six story condominium tower in the heart of Honolulu. The fire ultimately devastated three floors containing approximately fifty apartments, with over a hundred firefighters battling five hours to bring the high-rise blaze under control.  

During the initial hours of uncertainly, our community watched social media reports of many residents sheltering in place while others waited behind barricades outside, wondering about their family and friends inside a burning structure of almost six hundred apartment units.  We viewed the fear and tension among everyone concerned.

Tragically, a 54 year old Hawaiian Airlines in-flight manager, his elderly mother, and their pet dog perished in one unit, while a 71 year old dental assistant retiree succumbed in another apartment.  Their families share remembrances about their loved ones in these interviews.

KHON2 News
KHON2 News

In a blink of an eye, many of us seniors normally preoccupied with the day to day struggles of physical ailments and the high cost of medical and living expenses in Hawaii are counting our blessings compared to the plight of the many displaced Marco Polo fire victims, a number of whom are elderly and on fixed incomes.

We are grateful for the bravery of the first responders who worked tirelessly into the night to bring the blaze under control, the efficiency of government leaders including our city mayor mobilizing on site, and the compassion of Red Cross/Salvation Army volunteers and other charitable organizations bringing resources to the victims.

It's heartwarming to see the community outpouring of donations being walked into the Marco Polo lobby, as well as the business community aid being organized, including a $100,000 grant from Associa, the Marco Polo condominium management company.  However, given the uphill battle that many of these victims face, with over 200 apartments dealing with water and smoke damage, so much more is needed.  As reported by KHON2 news linked here, cash donations are the immediate priority at this point.

DAY 5 (Tuesday) MESSAGE FROM ONE FIRE VICTIM SURVIVOR TO OTHERS - Three years ago, my husband and I were sitting down to a routine evening with our beloved dog and cats, when a fire ripped through our two bedroom wooden townhouse within minutes. Nothing can describe those panicked moments of trying to locate our pets, getting away from the flames, and banging on the doors of our neighbors to warn them. I can only imagine the feelings and thoughts of those of you in the Marco Polo building, waiting hours to be told what to do and where to go next.

The shell shock lasts for days, even as you sit at the shelter realizing that you're safe, even as friends and neighbors walk up to you and press money into your hands. The daze continues when you go back and view the wreckage of your home and realize that not only all your possessions are gone, but all the things that those items represent. Irreplaceable objects passed down from generations of your family, mementos from past life events, creations by your children who are now adults. In my case, we also no longer had our vehicles and we didn't know whether our cats had safely exited.

As difficult as this may be for you to believe today, as you grieve for everything that you've lost, things will get better. You will deal with the maze of replacing your identity and day to day documents, realizing for the first time how many different institutions you need to deal with, your bank, the DMV, etc. You may undergo the frustrations, as we did, of years of restoration before the home that you own becomes livable again.

But you will be uplifted by the outpouring of support. My family rallied around us, and we were so fortunate that my sister was able to provide us with her rental so that we could have a base station to work from. Her generosity and the kindness of everyone, including total strangers, enabled us to get through years of recovery, and the slow rebuilding. Many helped us, and in particular we are so grateful for the Red Cross' aid on our behalf. We have just donated to them today and are happy to have an opportunity to pay it forward, because the Marco Polo project is one of the largest disaster relief cases that the Hawaii chapter has been involved with.

I can tell you from our experience that things look bleak today, the financial and emotional losses seem unsurmountable. But one day, whether it be months or years down the road, you will be able to look around and realize that your life is normal again, that you've gained enrichment from the compassion that exists out there for you, and you have new memories and appreciation of your island home. Our thoughts are with you - Chris -


Kudos to local entertainers and radio personalities who are banding together to perform a benefit concert at Ward Warehouse on Wednesday evening, with proceeds benefiting the Red Cross for Marco Polo aid efforts.

KITV4 video coverage of the concert is linked here:

DAY 7 (Thursday):  SOCIAL MEDIA GRASS ROOTS - There's been generous support from large businesses such as Safeway and Home Depot, but we're also seeing grass roots aloha from home and small businesses.  Let us explain: Our dogs' Instagram account has six times the number of followers compared with our page, so cute pups win the popularity contest over senior citizens hands down. Because we wanted to remember the small pet that perished in the fire, we posted a link of this webpage to our Instagram dog account.

The resulting comments by viewers from the California west coast to the New Jersey shore were heartwarming, including donation offers from Ohio. Thoughts and prayers came from as far as Italy. The feedback from the local home and small businesses have been incredible, from the AirBnB owner who has offered to donate one week's use of her home to displaced fire victims, to the Etsy pet accessories maker who is designing a special edition dog bandana with a portion of the proceeds going to the Red Cross.  These types of donations represent a significant part of a home/small business owner's resources and income, so it's such a wonderful demonstration of our island aloha spirit.  Stay tuned . . .

DAY 8 (Friday): BENEFIT BREAKFAST The Red Cross will the beneficiary of Finance Factors' annual charity breakfast, taking place at their building courtyard in the heart of our downtown financial district (1164 Bishop Street) during 6:30 to 9 a.m. on Friday, the one week anniversary of the MP fire. Details for the $6 breakfast are included in this KHON2 video.

BBQ and WINE - Local businesses are beginning to dedicate a portion of their daily proceeds to Red Cross Hawaii for MP relief efforts. On Wednesday, L & L Hawaiian Barbecue donated 10% of its Ward Entertainment Center location sales. A portion of Wine and Canvas Hawaii's Friday painting session seat purchases are being set aside.

Finance Factors charity breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Friday.

Wine and Art Hawaii fundraiser in Waikiki for the victims of last week's Marco Polo fire .

DAY 9 (Saturday): DOG LOVERS SHOW ALOHA - As we mentioned on Day 7, pet owners are rallying through their social media accounts to raise cash donations. We are so happy that Kiara Sakamoto, a long time animal lover, artist and zoologist, reached out to us. Her Etsy shop, Fuzzologist, lists products and art inspired by her own pets and created with love.

Kiara has designed a limited edition black aloha print bandana for pets, modeled here by her own fuzzy chiweenie Dodger.  Through collaboration with her friend Corinne, a matching bow tie for humans is also available for pre-order.  Kiara and Cori are donating 75% of the total sale price directly to the Red Cross of Hawaii, earmarked specifically for the victims of the Marco Polo fire. Please consider showing your aloha to help our neighbors, friends, and family get back on their feet.  

The bandanas and bowties can be pre-ordered at the Fuzzologist Etsy Shop via the link button below.  Kiara and Cori's Instagram accounts respectively are @fuzzologist and @crimson_dyn4m0 if you'd like to follow their posts.  Mahalo to them both for their generosity, creative hard work and compassion. Thank you to those who have already ordered, we can't wait to see the posts of your furbabies in their aloha wear.

Israel Kamakawiwi'ole performance set to scenes of the Hi'ilawe waterfall and Waipi'o Valley on the Big Island of Hawai'i to bring you five minutes of serenity. Photos by Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp

DAY 10 (Sunday): On a day when most of us are off from work, church groups and families are gathering supplies for those in need. MP residents have been going through the processes of insurance claims, inspections, cleanup, and applications for financial aid. The condo management company reports that the focus is expanding to other needed services, such as counseling and childcare, to provide a positive atmosphere while MP residents are trying to adjust to a 'new normal'. We are waiting to hear from some of our Instagram accounts that have family within the building as to what support services and items would be the most helpful at this time (and anyone can email us via the 'Contact Us' link above).

DAYS 11 through 14 (Monday-Thursday): Cleanup efforts are continuing; a resident reports that mold is already forming in their water damaged unit so flooring is being ripped out as quickly as possible. Humidity caused by a tropical storm remnant passing over Oahu is not helping the situation. There's also some concern about asbestos exposure. The asbestos work plan is linked here:  Work Plan PDF

Aloha came full circle on Tuesday when residents, volunteers and first responders came together for 'Taco Tuesday'. What a wonderful way to acknowledge everyone's efforts and gratitude for the donations that have poured in from the community.

Lei covers Britt Reller's desk at the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight division. (Image: Facebook/Remembering Britt Reller)

Lei covers Britt Reller's desk at the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight division. (Image: Facebook/Remembering Britt Reller)

DAY 15 (Friday 7/28/17) IN CELEBRATION OF BRITT RELLER'S LIFE:  Funeral services for Britt Reller, a Hawaiian Airlines in-flight supervisor, will be open to the public at Central Union Church, with the visitation beginning at 10 a.m., followed by the memorial at 11, and a reception afterwards. Over 2,000 members are sharing their memories of this wonderful man via the Facebook group "Remembering Britt Reller" linked here:  The people he touched around the world will raise a glass at 11 a.m. HST in celebration of a life well lived, though ended too quickly.

WEEK THREE (July 28 to August 3): Residents of the heavily damaged units are getting the bad news assessment that it may take six months to a year before their apartments can be occupied again.  Initial damage estimates are topping $100 million at this time. Personal possessions in other units, e.g. water damaged apartments, may not be returnable to the owners due to hazardous materials exposure.  Unless the property owners can pay for professional hazardous material cleanup (usually out of pocket if not covered by rental or homeowners' insurance) by restoration companies, their belongings may need to be destroyed.

Bloomingdale skincare and beauty experts will be providing TLC sessions in the Marco Polo lobby this Friday and Saturday afternoon (2 to 6 p.m.) including makeup and skincare sample giftbags along with hand massage and makeup/skincare sessions.

The resident management team on-site has listed the following donation items as being especially helpful at this time:  Personal hygiene items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, denture cleaner, hairbrushes, shampoo and conditioner, toilet paper, paper towels, Q-tips, lotion, etc.  Gift cards are also appreciated, especially for nearby vendors such as Times Supermarket, Safeway, Zippy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Jack In the Box, Taco Bell or 7-11). 


The Salvation Army is earmarking 100% of your donations designated for "Marco Polo fire relief services" directly to the Marco Polo fire victims. The Hawaii Chapter website link for secure credit card donations is  Checks payable to 'The Salvation Army' can be mailed to 2950 Manoa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, and a note can be included in the check memo indicating 'Marco Polo fire relief services' if you'd like to designate the funds for that particular cause.  The Hawaii Red Cross is also accepting donations on their website at

Progress updates to the condo residents and interested parties are being provided on the management company's Facebook page located at and we invite anyone with additional helpful links to contact us for inclusion here.

During the upcoming weeks, our band of seniors will look into organizing fundraisers and we'd welcome your ideas and help for various ways to aid our unfortunate island neighbors. Our hope is that we can consolidate our skills and resources to bring back some comfort and aloha to those who have lost so much.

December is A Time For Sharing Holiday Aloha

ALOHA FROM JENNIE:  Tis the season to bring cheer to others including: 

  • Those in military  service away from home and the families who miss them
  • Housebound seniors who are wistful at the loss of their loved ones
  • Homeless individuals and families facing winter chill
  • Weary single parents struggling to make ends meet

Please share your time by writing short letters, baking some treats, visiting someone to help them pass the time, and donating any extra resources.

Nothing beats the feeling of making a difference. May you and yours be blessed with the true spirit and joy of the holidays!

Puppy Mountain Hiking in Hawaii

Our Paws on the Path Hiking Club embarks on a new journey every month and visits a different trail each time. Don’t...

Posted by Hawaiian Humane Society on Sunday, March 8, 2015

ALOHA FROM JENNIE: A number of us seniors have active dogs who enjoy all that the islands have to offer, including grassy parks and sunny beaches. We recently discovered that our Hawaiian Humane Society and the 'Paws on the Path Hiking Club' coordinate a monthly hike for pooches, so I decided to take my relatively sedentary six year old basenji/boxer mix on a mountain hike.

The drive up to the windward side of Oahu is always pleasant, as you can see majestic lush mountains flanking the highway. We zip through various tunnels that have been cut into some of the mountains, as shown here.

We are heading for the Maunawili Ditch Trail, the initial three-mile leg of the longer ten mile Maunawili Demonstration Trail which extends all the way to the Pali region on East Oahu. The Maunawili Ditch portion starts in Waimanalo and allows hikers to meander through a lush forest at the bottom of the Koolau Mountain ranges.

Upon arriving at the staging area, my dog blends into a group of over three dozen humans and two dozen pups, with all the obligatory social sniffing that canines greet each other with.

The hike leader describes the Maunawili trail as a well marked path, easy for beginner hikers, and anticipates that the group will trot one and a half miles up to a circular turnaround and then come back down, resulting in a nice three mile trek for this newbie pair. As we enter the trail, we're quickly immersed in a forest of tall trees and dense green fauna.

The dogs quickly adapt to the pack's procession, heading upwards on the inclining trail. Some parts of the path are quite wide, while other areas are narrow, and there are portions of the trail that slope towards the edge. A slight drizzle keeps the air moist and visibility is hazy.

Everyone trudges past the tall trees, taking care to clamber over all the tree roots and rocks that litter the path, and enjoying the distant hazy views. Here's a four minute video that gives you a feel for the pace and scenery.

The return leg of the hike goes briskly, since it's downhill most of the way. Moderate rain is now falling, which changes the cool mist to a watery drizzle, creating a brown mud carpet throughout the trail. Everyone concentrates on stepping over branches, rocks and roots without losing one's footing. The showers let up slightly as we reach our cars, so we're able to towel mud off the damp pooches. Rain continues on the drive home, with a tired dog content to watch the mists drift past the car window. A hot shower, hearty meal and long nap awaits the canine trekker at home. 

Hope that you've enjoyed this glimpse into our puppy hiking adventure, and that you'll share the outings that are enjoyed by the dogs in your neck of the woods.

Seniors' Love-Hate Relationship With Social Media

ALOHA FROM JENNIE: The members of our Hawaii seniors group are diverse, and so it comes as no great surprise that our perception of social media ranges from those who see it as a 'necessary evil' because viewing Facebook posts is the only way that they'll share in the lives and thoughts of dear children and grandchildren living far away on the mainland, to those who relish the platform and create beautiful journals of their photos, likes and shares for the enjoyment of their colleagues and relatives.

I didn't give it too much thought during the last few weeks when Facebook's "Year In Review" albums from many friends started to appear in my Newsfeed. You may have seen some of these photo templates from your friends as well, containing a post that states "It's been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it". You then open the 'card' by swiping up or clicking the arrow tab on the bottom of the card, and a chronological pictorial of the year's events appear, along with some narrations by your friend, and ending with 'See you next year!'. The result is very similar to the annual 'newsletters' that people have been snailmailing out with their holiday cards all these years.

As the 'tech support' person for this website, I was nevertheless startled when a slightly distressed senior came up to me the other day and asked if there was a phone number that she could use to call Facebook. She explained that the photos Facebook had prepopulated into 'her' card of annual events included tragic photos of a neighbor's house fire, which resulted in a friend's home being burned to the ground and family being displaced with nothing but the clothes on their backs and gratitude that everyone including their pets managed to escape. The senior was horrified to imagine that all of her Facebook friends and family were now thinking that she was a terrible person to commemorate images of the burned out house with festive balloons and confetti in her 'holiday card'.

I hastened to reassure the senior that if she did not click 'share' on the template, then no one else would see the card other than herself. Furthermore, the photos that Facebook prepopulates into each user's template is not selected by a 'live' human being, but rather by computer algorithms, no doubt programmed to show the images that generated the most comments and 'likes' during the year for any given user. The problem is that since Facebook does not supply a 'empathize' button, we are forced to click 'like' even for distressing posts, as a means of showing support and acknowledgement. This was somewhat reassuring to our senior, but she was still irritated that the card kept on reappearing in her Newsfeed every half week or so. 

As I started to put together a Tech Q&A column to walk readers through (1) changing photos contained in their card template and (2) 'hiding' the card so that it would no longer display in their Newsfeed, I came across the Huffington Post blog column linked at the end of this post. Apparently, our senior was not the only one caught unaware by tragic images in her social media outlet. Web designer and writer Eric Meyer lost his young daughter to a brain tumor this past year, and wrote a blog post describing his feelings of unexpectedly seeing his daughter's face on his Facebook card and having to contend with the waves of grief. As a programmer himself, the writer expressed that he understood that Facebook was not being intentionally malicious, and that the templates were being generated by automation. 

His blogpost generated a firestorm of comments from readers sharing their own circumstances and reactions to sad occasions that were being inappropriately commemorated in a cheerful environment, such as the passing of beloved spouses and other family members, pets, and other difficult events. The writer received a swift apology from Facebook's product manager of that particular software app, and graciously responded with a followup post indicating that he didn't blame the Facebook programming team. Our senior is gratified that she is not alone in being jarred by unexpected images being shown in her name, and that Facebook's 'sensitivity' antenna has hopefully been tweaked.

For the most part, the albums posted by our friends have indeed reflected what was no doubt Facebook's original goal:  A commemoration of happy times. We revisited retirements, graduations and other achievements, additions of pets and babies to families, among other milestones and celebratory events. However, we'll also keep in our thoughts those of our friends for whom the past year may not have been as joyous, especially among our senior set.

In our Tech Q&A column linked here, we include a description of how you can either hide your unshared Facebook card, or make changes to the photo images and/or content to better express what you'd like to share. May your new year be filled with tranquility and good health.


Who Can We Touch This Holiday Season?

ALOHA FROM JENNIE: With Thanksgiving and the December holidays around the corner, we breathe a sigh of relief on making it through another year, enjoying the privilege of living in a beautiful state that is part of a powerful and relatively prosperous country, full of bountiful resources and independent citizens, with opportunities and freedoms not as readily available in the global landscape. 

As I reflect upon the people that I’ve interacted with over the past year, I see those of us who have just lost a loved one, some after a long illness, some unexpectedly, some tragically. This first set of holidays after the loss will be full of grief and memories of happier past times. Nothing can take away the pain, not really, but hopefully there can be some comfort through the strength of friends, family and/or clergy.



We see people who have had setbacks, who will need to deal with the disappointment of their children during the holidays, too young to understand why they are not in their foreclosed upon homes anymore. True, things could be worse, there are those who rent an apartment, or pay for a weekly room, or live in their cars, or a tent. I admire the fortitude of all those who are ‘making do’, as well as military families who can’t be with their loved ones during the holidays. No wonder the lower and middle class are the backbone of America.

Now and then, I see children of privilege, those who have never been without a roomful of presents under the holiday tree, who have had the best education that money can buy, and yet they’ve developed a strong sense of duty and compassion, and as adults join Doctors without Borders, or charitable foundations, not for the tax write-off or the lip service of being involved, but to sincerely better the lives of those less fortunate, because they actually see the need. There are so many who donate anonymously, or who set up private endowments, in addition to all of the public taxes that they pay. Hopefully, their voices and actions can motivate our leaders.

Finally, I see senior citizens grappling with the sadness of losing their circle of friends and family to old age and dealing with senior issues such as the high cost of medications, fixed incomes versus escalating expenses, their deteriorating physical ability and increasing aches and pains, and the loneliness of a world passing them by. Tasks and routines that were simple are now a struggle. Technology invades everything from telephones to market checkout lines. Everyone else is seemingly smarter and faster, doing everything with ease. The hustle and bustle of holidays are just additional hurdles, making the isolation and depression more pronounced.

And yet, I also see the resilience of the senior spirit. They didn’t get to where they are without a lot of trial and error, gumption, and crazy experiences. They’ve raised the children that are now out conquering the world, so to speak. Our fiercely independent seniors are the ones that help the housebound with grocery trips, and watch the children of a neighbor caught without a babysitter now and then.


They persevere with home upkeep and repairs, and walking and bathing their dogs, even though it would be just so much easier to stay in bed. They volunteer to write letters to deployed troops, despite arthritic fingers and dimming eyesight. These seniors who push on, often by themselves with little support, because things just need to get done, are the ones that make their generation the foundation of what we have today.

As the new year approaches, I wonder what the future holds, who will give up, who will soldier on, who will remember their roots as things get easier and better, who will try to make a difference, no matter how small. Our wish to you is that wherever you are in this walk of life, that there are moments of success in your personal struggles, along with contentment, comfort, and tranquility. Happy holidays.