Big Island – August 29, 2014 – Two weeks after Tropical Storm Iselle brought heavy rains and 60 mph winds to the Big Island Aug. 8, Catholic parishes, schools and organizations have been pitching in to help residents in storm-ravaged areas.

Iselle, the first tropical storm to hit the state in more than 20 years, caused severe flooding and knocked down trees and power lines on the Big Island’s east coast. Residents in Puna and neighboring districts were left without electricity for up to several weeks. Debris damaged roadways and homes.

Big Island parishes and St. Joseph School in Hilo reported no major onsite storm-related incidents. Parishioners, students and pastors, however, have since been involved in various community relief efforts.

Parishes and schools

Jessica Pacheco, executive assistant at St. Joseph School, said the school opened up its shower facilities in the days following Iselle for students and staff in need. Parents were also sent an email requesting donations of water, canned goods and other items.

“A lot of our kids were affected by the hurricane,” Pacheco said.

The school was closed for two days as a result of the storm, but Pacheco said things are now “back on track.”

Father Gregorio Apuya, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Pahoa, said several meal distributions have been done at the church. The food pantry has also been open to provide families with “whatever they need.”

“We’re doing well with that, slowly standing on our feet,” Father Apuya said.

Some Sacred Heart parishioners remain without electricity, the pastor said, and that “has posed a challenge.” He noted that the Big Island’s Hawaii Electric Light Company “is working hard to restore power” to all parts of the town.

Father Apuya, who also serves as vicar for East Hawaii Island, said parishes in the vicariate have been operating as normal. He noted that parishioners at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Papaikou have been working with Sacred Heart parish to share goods, services and financial support for storm outreach.

Arthur and Jane Torricer, a couple from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, have been collaborating with Big Island restaurants and businesses for donations of ice. The Torricers own the Snow Factory shave ice shop in Hilo. Arthur is among the volunteer drivers delivering the ice donations to residents in Puna.

Father Apuya said he has been inspired by the outpouring of community spirit the East Hawaii vicariate has shown since the disaster.

“I’m touched by their generosity,” he said.

At St. Theresa Church in Mountain View, parish administrator Father Ronie Pillos said people in the town began asking for extra food from its pantry about a week after Iselle hit. Parishioners have graciously offered whatever they can to help.

“We continue giving,” Father Pillos said. “We thank God we are OK, safe and sound.”

HOPE Services HawaiiHOPE Services Hawaii, a nonprofit organization created by the Diocese of Honolulu in 2010 to aid the homeless on the Big Island, has been active as well in storm outreach.

According to HOPE Services chief executive officer Brandee Menino, the organization has coordinated its relief efforts with other community groups and government departments. They have been working alongside Hawaii Island United Way, the Hawaii County Office of Aging and Office of Housing and Community Development, The Foodbasket, Hui Malama Ola Na Oiwi and the Big Island Substance Abuse Council.

Menino said this “multi-agency effort” is primarily aimed to aid the elderly and those with special medical conditions who can’t go to community assistance centers for care and supplies.

She explained that specialists in general healthcare, behavioral health and housing were grouped into teams that drove out to storm-affected areas. The teams were provided a roster of names and addresses to visit and conduct “wellness checks.” They reported needs to the Office of Aging, which initiated outreach with the “All Hands Volunteer Network.”

Menino said that HOPE Services staff and volunteers also distributed ice, water and goods to the Puna community and surrounding subdivisions. She said the staff has identified about 20 households displaced because of damage to their homes. HOPE Services is working with them on relocation, and connecting others in similar situations to appropriate resources.

“Through partnerships and the community coming together to help each other out and being good neighbors, we can persevere through this challenge,” Menino said.

HOPE Services continues to receive calls for additional water, food, propane, propane stoves, batteries and ice, Menino added. She can be contacted at for more information on storm relief donations.

Darlene J.M. Dela Cruz “Big isle parishes, school, services assist in post-storm recovery” Hawaii Catholic Herald, 29 Aug. 2014.