California Woman Answers 'God's Calling' to Pay the High Cost for Families Saying Goodbye in Maui
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It's been a month since wildfires swept through part of the Hawaiian island of Maui. In the long road to recovery, one major struggle for families who lost loved ones is paying for a proper funeral service, but thanks to a woman from California, many are now getting the help they need.
"He was like, just Mr. Aloha. He had a heart of gold and anybody that would meet him on the street anywhere would just make friends with him, like everybody loved him," said Leona Castillo, describing her 28-year-old son Po'omaika'i Estores-Losano, who died in the August 8th wildfires that swept through Lahaina.
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, 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 like, I can't even explain but it was like, heartbreaking," she said.
Due to surgery in July, Leona isn't working and the average funeral service here runs about $8,000 – an insurmountable cost for most families in the islands. "It costs money to live in paradise and to exit paradise, because think about it, you're going to exit a paradise to go into the most beautiful paradise. So, you got to pay," Leona said.
Then, Leona met Vanessa Rozo, a Californian who came to Maui to help families pay for funerals with money collected from 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 up. 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 that's 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 the 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, 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 broken-hearted, 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.
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