When Folsom writer and former resident of Lahaina Jen Sweeney first heard the news reports of the destruction of the Aug. 8 Maui County wildfires, tears streamed down her face.  “I cried for three days,” Sweeney said.  The writer then paused with a realization.  “As a children’s author, I knew I could do something,” Sweeney added. 

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The “something” was donating some of her books to her former hometown of Lahaina.  As Sweeney posted her intentions on different online writing forums, fellow authors from several countries asked if they could help with the initiative.  One respondent was Travis Peterson, a writer and illustrator from a nonprofit organization Ella’s Way in North Andover, Mass.  with a mission of spreading acceptance, inclusion, and kindness through children’s literature.

“It’s amazing how many people reached out,” Sweeney said.  Friends of the Granite Bay Library and authors from North America, Europe, and Australia were amongst the groups and individuals of book donors.  

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Sweeney said the outpouring of support is enabling her to work with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to deliver books to shelters housing displaced Lahaina families.  In addition, donated books are being reserved to restock the Lahaina Public Library once it’s rebuilt.  Ashes and rubble are all that remain of the historic landmark built in 1956 and formerly boasting 19,031 square feet.

“It’s just so sad to see everything gone,” Sweeney said, referring to the library, elementary school, businesses, and homes ravaged by the wildfires.  Sweeney said the flames destroyed a friend’s home on Front Street, leaving a pile of charred memories. Meanwhile, Sweeney said Lahaina residents are mourning the loss of loved ones.

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As Sweeney reflects on the devastation the wildfires wreaked on her former hometown, she finds solace working with authors from around the world to bring books to Lahaina, as the cooperative effort connects with the Hawaiian philosophy of laulima that states “No task is too big when shared by all.”

For updates on the wildfire recovery and relief efforts of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, visit: Hawaii Emergency Management Agency | August 2023 Wildfires.  To contact J.A. Sweeney regarding book donations, call (808) 465-6140 or email j.a.sweeneylbrigade@gmail.com.

After local author Jen Sweeney came up with a way to use her passion to help fire victims in Hawaii, the response from fellow author and others from all over the world, have garnered thousands of copies of various children’s books that are on their way to young fire victims.
Folsom Times Staff
Author: Folsom Times Staff

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