San Diego

San Diego MMA fighter's Maui donation drive still collecting supplies for Lahaina wildfire victims

Dozens of San Diegans continue to pitch in for those in need

NBC Universal, Inc.

As search and recovery efforts continue on the Hawaiian island of Maui, San Diegans are continuing to donate supplies to those in need. Nearly a month after the fires destroyed the lives of myriad people, the tragedy is still hitting close to home for many in San Diego County.

The second San Diego Loves Maui donation drive was held on Sunday at the 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu gym on Mission Gorge Road. People donated paper towels, trash bags, and drinking water — just some of the many items people in Maui still need. The event was organized by Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, a world champion MMA fighter, as well as Joann Fields. She's the government and public relations director with the Asian Pacific Islander Initiative.

"We're not assuming what they need, and one thing they did say, no more used clothes. Thank you, but no thank you. They're good on that. It's the supplies that need to be replenished every month," said Fields.

The donation drive ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., a particularly narrow window for people to donate supplies. Fields said this is because the outpouring of support from people all across San Diego County has been at times overwhelming, and the logistics of handling all of the donations can be challenging. Thankfully, several sponsors have stepped in to help cover the costs of transporting the supplies across the sea.

The very first San Diego Loves Maui donation drive was cut short because of how many donations flowed in, but those supplies quickly dried up. Fields said this time around, they're narrowing down what items are needed, like everyday toiletries and products.

Diana Weinrieb was one of the people who showed up to donate. After catching wind of the donation drive on the news, she felt compelled to act. But for her, there's also a personal connection that goes beyond just the headlines she watched on the news.

"We happened to know somebody who used to live in San Diego as a school teacher in Lahaina, and we reached out to her the day after the fire, and we haven't spoken to her since. So we hope she and her family are okay," said Weinrieb. "Maui gave to us, I want to give back to Maui."

Macfarlane helped get the donation drive off the ground using her platform on social media. She was raised on the island of Oahu, and has friends and family living on Maui. Although San Diego has been her new home for the past 15 years, she tells NBC 7 this tragedy has brought together communities both near and far.

"There's a strong islander community up here, but even — you know — non-islanders, people who never even visited Maui before are wanting to help," said Macfarlane.

Officials in Maui have been ramping up search and recovery operations on land and sea, and are urging people to continue providing more DNA samples to help find those still unaccounted for. On the backdrop of all this, the people who are accounted for are trying to take it day by day. Every bit of supplies donated, according to Fields, goes a long way.

"This is not a sprint, it's a marathon. It's not going to be resolved next week, next month or next year. It's going to take time," said Fields.

A few of the organizers behind the San Diego Loves Maui donation drive are planning to head to Maui in the coming days to help distribute the supplies, and provide any other help that may be needed.

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