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Teenager starts ‘Give Aloha’ to raise funds, provide hope to Maui fire survivors

Teenager Chanel Higa was only 9 when she learned what it means to lose everything.

In 2016, the Higa family’s ‘Īao Valley home was flooded and destroyed. Due to a mistake in their paperwork, the Higas were unable to receive financial assistance from their insurance company, forcing all six of them to live in a cramped room for more than five years while repairs were being made to their house.

“I remember sitting on top of the roof of my house, trying to escape the water, waiting for someone to rescue me, and wondering how we were ever going to get through this,” the now 16-year-old said. “Then I thought about the community we had around us, and I realized we’d be okay.”

Higa said the immense support from friends, neighbors and other Maui residents pulled her family out of hard times — and has motivated her over the past six years to give back by organizing charity events that have raised an estimated $1 million, according to her mother, Lisa Higa.

So when Chanel Higa, who still lives in ‘Īao Valley, learned Lahaina was ravaged by the fast-moving fire, she pushed to use her family’s T-shirt printing business, 100% Kamaʻāina, to found the organization Give Aloha.

Through Give Aloha, she sells T-shirts saying “#Maui Strong” and “All Hawai’i Stand Together,” with all proceeds donated to fire victims.

Despite being only a senior, at Baldwin High School, Higa has a long track record of philanthropy. In 2017, she founded Flasks for Class that donated Hydro flasks to underprivileged students from 15 Maui and 20 Oʻahu schools. And in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she started Masks for Class to donate personal protective equipment to local schools.

For the fire survivors’ cause, knowing she wanted to bring her shirts’ messages beyond Maui and Hawai’i, Higa used her contact at a Duty-Free Shop to sell the shirts at Kahului Airport.

From there, the manager brought the shirts to the Duty-Free vice president, who Higa says put them in duty-free shops in airports across the world.

That’s why Lisa Higa says it’s difficult to estimate how much money Give Aloha has raised because they are being sold locally, at small businesses like Tamura’s Market and Nalu’s South Shore Grill, and worldwide.

“Even our business partners in the Philippines, Thailand and Japan are all wearing Maui Strong T-shirts,” Lisa Higa said.

Chanel Higa says the “shirts are so much more than raising money.” The important thing is the message they provide to the people of Maui — a message of hope.

The Higas say they’ve heard people who’ve lost their friends, family and houses tell them they have no more will to live. They’ve heard people ask themselves why they were spared and why their loved ones were not. Even Chanel Higa, who has friends in Lahaina that she hasn’t seen since the fire, has found herself losing hope at times.

Chanel Higa founded Flasks for Class that donated Hydro flasks to underprivileged students from 15 Maui and 20 Oʻahu schools, including at King Kamehameha III School in Lahaina in 2019. PC: Lisa Higa

Chanel Higa founded Flasks for Class that donated Hydro flasks to underprivileged students from 15 Maui and 20 Oʻahu schools, including at Lahaina Intermediate School. PC: Lisa Higa

“When I heard about the fire in Lahaina, I was heartbroken; that was my second home,” Chanel Higa said.

During COVID-19, Higa attended Lahainaluna High School, went to its prom and band banquets, and made her closest friends when hanging out in Lahaina Town.

“That’s the pain we feel, see and hear,” Lisa Higa said. “You know, some officials say it will take decades to get Maui back to how it once was, and hearing that, knowing you’ve probably lost the people you love, it’s easy to lose hope.

“But seeing people around the world wear these shirts, you can feel them saying ‘I don’t know who you are, but I love Hawai’i, and I’m here for you.’ That has to give you hope.”

Chanel Higa further explained that the “stand together” message comes from President Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 “House Divided” Speech, in which he famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

“I look around at how much controversy and negativity there is in Hawai’i, and I feel like we need to be as one,” Chanel Higa said. “We need to be connected. We need to lift each other up to get things done.”

The Higas plan to continue using the shirts to connect their community long after “the hype around the fires dies down.” With funds raised from shirts purchased through the family business, the Higas are putting together thousands of Christmas gift baskets for families affected by the fires, including toys for kids.

Higa decided to hold a Christmas toy drive because she recognized that most of the fire relief efforts are centered on adults, leaving kids lost in the shuffle.

“I’ve been in that situation; I know what they’re going through right now,” she said. “They need a friend to hand them a teddy bear, or a toy, and say ‘I’m your friend. I’m here for you. So, to know our shirts will eventually allow us to give these kids parts of their childhood back makes me emotional. It hits close to home.”

For information about how to fundraise for Give Aloha or sell Give Aloha shirts to fundraise for another charity, contact Chanel Higa at 100% Kamaʻāina’s website:

Abby Owens

Abby Owens is a freelance reporter for Maui Now. She is Editor-and-Chief at Mouth of the River, the school newspaper at Oyster River High School in Durham, NH. Owens was a recent recipient of the Yale Book Award.

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