By: Erin Gartner, Northwest Region Volunteer
Capt. Kim Buike was getting used to retirement when the devastating wildfires broke out in Hawaii this summer.
The Navy officer had spent most of his life in public service, including as a local board member for the American Red Cross. Sitting in his home in Washington state, he couldn’t shake the thought of not helping people an ocean away.
“I wanted to do something,” he said.
Buike, who spent 27 years in the military, had worked as a liaison between the government and the Red Cross during disasters in the Pacific Northwest, so he understood how response operations worked. He also knew that volunteers would be haggard, busy, and tired – and he wanted to say thank you.
“I learned from my Navy career that if you can look someone in the eye and shake their hand to thank them, you do that,” Buike said.
So he bought a plane ticket and, two days later, boarded a flight to Maui. Carrying little more than a thank-you card (with a $1,000 check tucked inside), he found a helpful cab driver, and they tracked down a local emergency shelter. As they drove, they passed Lahaina, the town devastated by the fires.
“I saw it from the highway, and it was really, really bad,” Buike said. “The Red Cross is going to be engaged here for many, many years to help these people recover.”
They eventually found the shelter, and Buike approached three Red Cross volunteers who, as he suspected, appeared a bit warn and frazzled.
“I told them, ‘This is kind of random. I flew in from Seattle. I just wanted to say thank you’.’”
He said the volunteers were kind, accepted his thank-you card and posed for a couple of photos. They said they would tell their supervisor about his thoughtful gesture.
“I was there for probably less than 5 minutes. I got each of them to smile, so I liked that. I wish I could have said thank you to more folks, but I didn’t want to impose,” Buike said.
Less than 24 hours after arriving in Maui, Buike was on a red-eye flight back to Seattle. He said the trip was a small gesture, one driven by his respect and admiration for Red Cross volunteers.
“One of the things that I just absolutely love about the Red Cross is that it is a volunteer-based organization. They have some paid staff, but the bulk of the on-the-ground work, the face-to-face work with clients, is done by volunteers,” he said. “Those people can’t be thanked enough.”