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The Aloha Ninety-Nines (Aloha 99s) and the Women in Aviation International Hawaii 50 Chapter (WAI Hawaii 5-0) have joined forces to create a local fundraiser for homeless children. The Keiki (child) Christmas Charity exceeded their $4,000 monetary goal for the children who reside on the “less-developed” islands of Hawaii: Hilo and Lanai. During the global pandemic, “ohana (family) on the outer islands” have faced months of isolation – cutting them off from luxuries and essential services.
A community of Hawaiian female aviators, connected by their passion for flying and grateful for the opportunities they have been afforded, were determined to help.
Earlier this year, the Aloha 99s and WAI Hawaii 5-0 flew school supplies and reusable masks in flight training aircraft to needy children on the islands of Molokai and Maui.
Nobi Buntin, a former flight attendant for Delta, began flying in 2015. Today, she’s a commercial pilot and current Aloha 99s chair. During a recent Air Time interview with Elevate Aviation’s Kendra Kincade, Buntin said she realized she could help deliver supplies while she worked on her CFI rating.
To avoid out-of-pocket costs, the team of volunteer pilots delivered the gifts and donations while on training flights to the outer islands. South Pacific Flying Club donated its Cessna 172 for a total of 10 flight hours. Aloha reached out to Mokulele Airlines asking “to borrow their sled to deliver presents. Without even skipping a heartbeat, they agreed to lend a helping hand,” the Aloha 99s said in an Instagram post.
“When I wanted to become a pilot, I thought that training was just training… but the amazing thing about the Aloha 99s and the local aviation community is that training can be a vessel for so much more,” said Abigail Dang, Aloha Chapter secretary and 18-year-old private pilot. “It can really branch out and bless other people.”
“People are suffering,” added Buntin, “so we don’t have money to donate, but we do have skill. We have time. We have knowledge. We have connections. We used those skills to push forward and make it a success.”
Monetary donations were used to purchase gifts for the often-forgotten homeless teenagers on Hawaii’s outer islands. The $4,000 goal ensured each teen on the island of Hilo would receive a $20 gift certificate.
The volunteers also created stockings. “We put candy in there with the gift card and then one essential item. . . . A mask went in, or a hand sanitizer,” said Buntin.
Volunteer pilot Marina Frances shared with Elevate Aviation’s Kincade that she, too, lives in public housing. After receiving an Aloha 99s scholarship, Frances chose to help with the fundraiser to show her appreciation. “It’s very common that people live in poverty here,” she said. “A lot of parents aren’t able to provide for their kids,” forcing some to live in tents and cars.
When asked what she took from this experience, Frances said, “Somewhere in the big island, the kids are opening [gifts], and they’re smiling, and you know, it’s just nice.”
Hawaii, often known for its beautiful beaches and tropical climates, has a growing homeless community. “There are quite a few states that will send their homeless to Hawaii,” said Buntin, “so, that’s the reason why we have so many homeless.”
Buntin believes that no one chooses to be homeless, and she does what she can to help. But it places a lot on Hawaii’s shoulders.
She described feeling “goosebumps” when she received donations from teens in the community. “I’m proud,” she added, “and so honoured to have a community that’s so eager to help.
“When we unite, the world ignites.” Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas).