East Hawaii News

For 30 years, Hilo’s Haumea brings holiday joy, collects donations at red kettles

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A festive fragrance of fresh-cut firs floated through the foyer at the Hilo Walmart on Thursday as inflatable Santa and his air-filled Christmas tree greeted shoppers.

Serenading customers was 49-year-old lifelong Hilo resident Kauila Haumea. His bright baritone voice sang Christmas classics amidst the hubbub of the holiday hustle and bustle and the iconic resonance of a brass bell.

Kauila Haumea poses for a photo while manning his red kettle station Thursday at Hilo Walmart. Haumea has been a bell ringer for The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Program for nearly 30 years. Photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now.

For nearly 30 years, minus 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Haumea has been a bell ringer for The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Program. Capt. Sam LeMar, the Salvation Army’s Hilo Corps officer, said he likely is the Corps’s longest-serving paid bell ringer.

Haumea began manning red kettles while in high school because of a desire to give back to his community, the same reason he returns to do so each holiday season. Since 2014, the furthest Hilo Corps records go back, he has raised as of Thursday $35,663 and put in 850 hours as a bell ringer.

“It lights me up inside,” Haumea said.

Haumea also lights up shoppers with his smile, gentle brown eyes, expressions of gratitude and voice, which on this day was caroling “Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.”


But you won’t hear the constant ringing of the bell. Haumea was born with a rare genetic disorder called Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, which affects the central nervous system. He has speech delay and problems with his eyesight, coordination and motor abilities. The number of people around the globe with the disorder is unclear, but it’s estimated to affect about only one in 100,000, mostly males, in the United States.

His disability makes it hard to physically ring a bell but doesn’t hinder his ability to bring joy and peace into people’s hearts and lives.

“There’s no holding him back,” said Celeste Lincoln, who works for Full Life Hawai‘i and is Haumea’s support worker and friend.

Lincoln knew Haumea when they were in college. They have gotten reacquainted since she started working with him two years ago.

“Kauila loves people,” Lincoln said. “He loves interacting. He loves to be in the middle of what’s going on. He loves bringing a smile to people’s faces.”


Haumea is working this year at the Red Kettle from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at three locations in Hilo — Walmart, Safeway and KTA Puainako — on a rotating basis three or four days a week during the holidays.

“I get to see my friends and family that I only get to see during the bell-ringing season,” he said, jokingly adding that he is “related to half the state.”

“How are you?” asked one man who saw Haumea on Thursday at Walmart. “I haven’t seen you in a long time.”

Several others stopped to say hello, with one woman complimenting him on his beautiful voice. Haumea’s favorite song for the occasion is “Silent Night,” which he sings in English and Hawaiian.

Steve Kaine, Haumea’s fellow bell ringer at the west side of the Walmart entryway that day, had just met Haumea but already could tell he has a great reputation. Kaine said many people asked about Haumea: “He’s very well-liked.”


Haumea also is well-known in the community.

He is a massage therapist, kahu and healer, offering his services through Haumea’s Healing Hands and Heart. He’s also a paddler and started ‘Ohana Wa’a Laulima, a nonprofit canoe club geared toward giving people with disabilities equal opportunity to learn and experience the sport of paddling.

The club includes abled and disabled members and began practices in January. It now has 40 members, some of whom come from as far away as Waikōloa and Kona to participate, and was in its first regatta in June.

Capt. LeMar with the Salvation Army said there is no “typical” bell ringer — they come from all walks of life and all parts of society, from keiki to kūpuna. There are volunteers, individuals and sometimes even groups of friends or families, businesses, service clubs or school groups or clubs. There also are paid workers. The Salvation Army can always use more of both.

A woman makes a donation at Kauila Haumea’s red kettle station Thursday at Hilo Walmart as Haumea smiles back. Photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now.

Lemar said what sets Haumea apart and makes him such an amazing member of the community is his desire to help and encourage others: “His passion can be seen in all that he does, and that shines through in his smile at the kettle.”

The Salvation Army’s mission statement says: “The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. It’s ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”

The donations Haumea and other Big Island bell ringers collect each year support community-based programs. LeMar said the Red Kettle Program is crucial because it gives the organization the ability to serve those in need.

“It may be in our homeless feeding both in Hilo or Kona, our Family Intervention Services islandwide and the work they do with families and safe houses for boys and girls, the hot showers provided in Honoka‘a, the food boxes provided islandwide, the affordable preschool in Kona, islandwide back-to-school supplies, Christmas gifts for keki and kūpuna, etc.,” LeMar said.

“Kauila’s mission in life is to serve others unconditionally and that’s what makes him the perfect bell ringer,” LeMar said.

True to his spirit and the reason for the season, Haumea said the best thing about the holidays is “feeling and sensing all of the love and joy that I share with all of the people every year.”

Anyone who wants to join Haumea and support The Salvation Army’s community outreach as a volunteer bell ringer this holiday season can email [email protected] or call the Hilo Corps at 808-935-1277. Donations can also be made online.

“We humbly ask Hawai‘i’s businesses and the public to join with us to help those in need all year long,” said Maj. Phil Lum, divisional commander for The Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division, in a press release. “We are seeking monetary and in-kind donations as well as volunteers. Volunteer bell ringers are particularly needed to help us keep red kettles out in communities as much as possible.”

There are several other physical red kettle locations around the Big Island. All will be accepting donations until Christmas Eve. If you don’t have cash, no worries. Donations at any kettle in the state can be made via Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal and Venmo.

The other sites:

  • Ace Hardware in Waimea
  • The Fish Hopper in Kona
  • Hilo Farmers Market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings
  • KTA Super Stores including Downtown Hilo, Keauhou, Kona Town, Waikōloa and Waimea
  • Malama Market in Honoka‘a and Pāhoa
  • Takata Market in Hawi
  • Kona Walmart

Businesses also can adopt a red kettle or a counter kettle for their office or storefront. They also can set up paper red kettles at their locations. Those interested can call 808-988-2136.

Individuals who can’t make it to a physical location but still want to show their red kettle spirit can do so online. To donate specifically to the Red Kettle Program, click here and then scroll down to select the island you want to support.

There also are other ways to help during the holidays.

The Salvation Army Angel Tree Program collects gifts for keiki or kūpuna in need. Donors can select one or more paper angel tag ornaments from an Angel Tree describing a child or senior and purchase appropriate gifts for them. Those gifts are returned to the tree from which the tags were pulled. Angel Trees are located at all Walmart stores in Hawai‘i and at many businesses and malls. The trees at the Hilo and Kona Walmarts will be available through Dec. 15.

On the Big Island, Angel Trees can be found through Dec. 16 at:

  • Denny’s in Kona.
  • The Fish Hopper in Kona.
  • HomeStreet Bank in Hilo.

Donations also can be made at all Burger King Hawai‘i restaurants through Dec. 31, all of which will go toward Angel Tree gifts for keiki.

Those who prefer to shop online can click here for Angel Tree registries until Dec. 15. Individuals and businesses also can make monetary donations or create personalized online Angel Tree fundraisers to give gifts to keiki and kūpuna. Click here for more information.

Kauila Haumea mans his red kettle station during a previous holiday season in this photo from the Haumea’s Healing Hands and Heart website.

“It’s important to remember that Red Kettle, Angel Tree and monetary donations stay in the communities where they are donated,” Lum said in the press release.

To help The Salvation Army continue serving those in need throughout the entire year, click here.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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