It’s been a month since wildfires ravaged the Hawaiian island of Maui. One big challenge for families who have lost loved ones on the long road to recovery is paying for a suitable funeral service, but thanks to a woman from California, many are now receiving the assistance they require.
“He was just Mr. Aloha. “He had a heart of gold, and anyone who met him on the street or anywhere would just make friends with him, like everybody loved him,” Leona Castillo said of her 28-year-old son Po’omaika’i Estores-Losano, who died in the Lahaina wildfires on August 8th.
Estores-Losano leaves behind two young sons: his mother Leona and sister Jayna, who are still trying to come to terms with their loss.
“Oh, the fire—I guess it broke out really bad, so we tried calling him and calling him. He never picked up, but it went straight to voicemail. Oh, we couldn’t reach anybody. To know, like, if he tried to run or the way that he went. We don’t know if he was alone or how he went, and that’s just what breaks my heart,” his mother told us.
His 26-year-old sister, Jayna Barut, says she and her brother were close. “He was super loving, kind, and humble, like he always saw the good, never the bad,” she remembered.
For two weeks, they waited before learning that a DNA sample from Leona matched Po’omaika’i’s remains. “The feeling that we felt was, I can’t even explain, but it was like, heartbreaking,” she said.
Leona isn’t working because of surgery in July, and the average funeral ceremony here costs over $8,000, which is out of reach for most island families. “It costs money to live in paradise and to leave paradise, because consider this: you’re leaving one paradise to enter the most beautiful paradise.” So you have to pay,” Leona explained.
Then Leona met Vanessa Rozo, a Californian who traveled to Maui to assist families with funeral expenses using funds raised through her local church and a GoFundMe page.
“And God’s just opened doors. I know how to fundraise, and I know how to connect people. I would like to connect this lady (Leona) with the funds necessary to provide this relief for her by providing funeral expenses,” Rozo said. “So, I set up the GoFundMe page. I just felt that it was God’s calling for me to come here,” Rozo said.
Before Vanessa arrived, Leona had collected half of the money she needed to give her son a proper celebration of life, which is important in Hawaiian culture to bring her family closure. “When somebody passes, we celebrate them to remember them. We want to celebrate the life that he had and any memories with his family and friends. So, it’s going to cost,” Leona said.
From the money Vanessa raised, she provided the remaining $4,000 for a special service, complete with a minister and flowers, so Po’omaika’i (known as PO’O) could be remembered by his many friends and family.
His sister Jayna says her brother knew the Lord and likes to think he died trying to help others escape. “I know in my heart that if he heard somebody yelling or screaming, he would have gone and helped them,” she said. “But he loved God. He truly did,” Jayna said.
“God chooses his strongest warriors. And my son was one of those biggest heart-of-gold people that you would ever meet,” Leona recalled.
And just as the daily rainbows here in Hawaii declare God’s faithfulness, Jesus will be close to the brokenhearted, heal their wounds, and, in time, bring beauty from the ashes. If you would like to help families in Maui pay for funeral expenses, you can donate here.