Residents of Maui affected by the recent devastating wildfires are on the verge of receiving financial assistance, thanks to the controversial fundraising campaign by Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The duo established the People’s Fund of Maui and pledged $10 million to kickstart the initiative.
This month, eligible adults who lost their homes or faced inhabitable conditions due to the fires in Lahaina and Kula will receive a monthly stipend of $1,200. This fund extends its support to both homeowners and renters, excluding property owners who do not reside in the affected homes, Hawaii News Now reported.
“We’ve changed the game with this because never before has a fund been made where you remove the red tape. The money is not going to 15 different organizations. The money goes directly to the people,” said Johnson, whose mother was born in Hawaii and who has spent a large part of his life on the islands.
The fund aims to “put money directly in the hands of those most affected,” Johnson said in a statement, according to The New York Times.
“People being able to have their own agency, being able to make decisions for themselves about what they need and what their family needs — that’s our goal,” Winfrey said in a video on Instagram. She explained that the public’s donations to the fund would go directly to victims.
Winfrey has lived in Maui part-time for more than 15 years and bought 870 acres of land in Kula for nearly $6.6 million earlier this year, according to the local news site Maui Now. It was a land grab that sparked outrage among locals.
The fund, a nongovernmental initiative, is part of a larger effort to aid wildfire survivors. The devastating fires left over 2,000 structures in ruins, forcing thousands into emergency shelters. As of Aug. 31, at least 115 people have been confirmed killed in the fire, and there are still more than 100 missing persons reports filed with Maui police, The Guardian reported. The wild fires burned from Aug. 8 to Aug. 11.
Effort Slammed By Backlash
Winfrey and Johnson faced backlash when requesting donations to a Maui fund from everyday people instead of their wealthy friends. People also wondered by the two didn’t donate more than they did to their own fund. Winfrey responded to the criticism on CBS Mornings and said she had been “vilified” online.
According to Forbes, Winfrey’s net worth is $2.5 billion and Johnson’s is at $270 million, which means they contributed less than 0.5% of their total wealth to the fundraiser, Insider reported.
During an interview this week with “CBS Mornings” to promote her new book with Arthur Brooks, “Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier,” Winfrey directly addressed the backlash.
Winfrey described the criticism as an “onslaught of being terrorized and vilified online” and said it gave her “so much more compassion” for younger people who are bullied online.
“I was so excited, and I got up the next morning and I saw all of this vitriol, and I was like, woah, what happened here?” Winfrey said during the interview, adding she still thought the fundraiser was “a really strong idea.”
She didn’t address the critique about the amount of money she donated.