Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have teamed up to to create a relief fund for residents in Maui, Hawaii who have been displaced by the recent wildfires. The duo has launched the People’s Fund of Maui, which will send money directly to people whose lives have been affected by the blazes. Winfrey and Johnson kicked off the campaign today by donating the fund’s initial $10 million.
“Collaborating closely with an esteemed advisory board and support from the local community and respected elders, this new fund will serve as a bridge to provide cash directly to the families and individuals affected so that they can personally determine how best to use the funds for themselves,” a statement about the fund said.
Anyone who is 18 or older who and is unable to return to their primary residences because of the wildfires that have ravaged the area of Lahaina and Kula on Maui can receive $1,200 each month to assist their recover. To qualify, applicants must show a government ID and a utility bill in their name for a lost or uninhabitable residence, the People’s Fund of Maui’s website said.
All net proceeds that the fund receives will go to those directly impacted in Maui. The People’s Fund of Maui will also seek donations to extend the length of time it can provide the support.
“I have been meeting with people throughout the community that were impacted by the fires over the last few weeks, asking what they most needed and how I could be of service,” Winfrey, who has a home in Maui, said in a press release reported on by NBC News.
“The main thing I’ve been hearing is their concern about how to move forward under the immense financial burden. The community has come together in so many wonderful ways, and my intention is to support those impacted as they determine what rebuilding looks like for them,” the television host and producer added.
Johnson, who is of Samoan descent and spent part of his childhood living in Hawaii, emphasized Winfrey’s sentiment. “As people around the world watched the catastrophic loss and devastation caused by the Maui wildfires, they also witnessed the great spirit and resilience of our Polynesian culture and the tremendous strength of the people of Maui. Even in the most difficult of times, the people of Maui come together, and we rise — that’s what makes us stronger,” he said in the press release.
“We are beyond grateful to be working alongside esteemed community leaders of Maui to launch the People’s Fund of Maui,” the actor continued. “These leaders are offering their guidance to ensure our fund can put money directly in the hands of those individuals most affected.
“To all who have already offered your help, thank you for your support and for those wanting to help now, your prayers and resources are a welcome assistance for those displaced within the Maui community,” the press release added.
The Maui wildfire broke out earlier this month and has since become the deadliest wildfire in modern American history. The death toll stands at 115 people as of August 30, according to Maui police.
“You want to take care of the greatest need of the people and that’s giving them money,” Johnson said.
“We want to have this fund go for as long as you, America, choose to help us with this fund,” Winfrey added.
“And our goal is to be able to give people money regularly for at least the next six months so that they will be able to make decisions for themselves and be able to have some sense of value for what they can bring to themselves and to their families. We will continue the fund for as long as you help us continue the fund.”
Winfrey and Johnson announced their effort today on Instagram in a video in which the media mogul shared that the two were texting about how they can help. Winfrey said she was inspired by an article about a similar fund that was set up by Dolly Parton.
The country singer set up a fund after wildfires swept through the mountain resort city of Gatlinburg in her native Tennessee in December 2016. As a result of those fires, 14 people died and 2,400 structures were destroyed.
Jeff Conyers, president of The Dollywood Foundation, said he consulted with Winfrey’s team multiple times in the past several weeks to share the lessons that they’d learned from administrating the fund. Parton’s fund granted $11 million to families who had lost their homes.
“Dolly’s idea was that, ‘Hey, look, these are my people and I want to take care of them and we trust them to know what recovery looks like for themselves and their families in the days and weeks following this immediate catastrophe here,'” Conyers also stated.
Parton’s fund, called My People Fund, worked with first responders and a local utility company. they asked residents to help them determine which structures were destroyed and who lived in those homes, Conyers added.
Approximately 1,000 families eventually received assistance from the fund, according to an evaluation from the University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Social Work. That included a final $5,000 lump sum transfer at the end of six months.
Winfrey and Johnson said they have also consulted with “community elders, leaders and residents including Hōkūlani Holt-Padilla, Keali’i Reichel, Archie Kalepa, Ekolu Lindsey, Kimo Falconer, Tiare Lawrence, Kaimana Brummel, Kaleikoa Ka’eo, Brian Keaulana, Kaimi Kaneholani, Henohea Kāne, Paele Kiakona, Ed Suwanjindar, Shep Gordon and Jason Momoa.”
The Entertainment Industry Fund, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps celebrities administer their charitable work, is sponsoring the People’s Fund of Maui. Johnson and Winfrey hope the fund will continue to make transfers to qualifying residents for at least six months.