Jeff Bezos vowed $100M to Maui after fires, but no one knows where it went

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By Dan Sears

Jeff Bezos made a splashy, $100 million pledge to help rebuild Maui after it was devastated by wildfires in August — but local officials and nonprofits alike are reportedly puzzled about where the funds may have gone.

According to a Bloomberg report published Thursday, Bezos and his fiancée, Lauren Sanchez, have given out just $15.5 million of their pledge so far, though a West Maui state senator and local nonprofit leaders told the outlet they hadn’t received or heard of any other entities getting any part of Bezos’ pledge.

“Nobody’s heard anything at all,” Angus McKelvey, the state senator representing West Maui, told the outlet. “Had they simply consulted with the community and myself and other representatives, we would’ve told them, ‘Take your money and put it over here.’”

In a response to a query from The Post on Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for Bezos shared a list of organizations that received funds. 

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui, the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, Hawaii community regeneration group Lele Aloha and the Maui Food Bank were among the groups that Bezos and Sanchez have distributed the $15.5 million to so far, the spokesperson told The Post. 

Jeff Bezos and his fiancée, Lauren Sanchez, have given $15.5 million to the Bezos Maui Fund since August — a fraction of the $100 million the couple pledged to help the Hawaiian towns devastated by wildfires. Instagram/Jeff Bezos

The Post has sought comment from each of these organizations.

Bezos’ spokesperson also noted the Amazon founder and his bride-to-be lent their helicopter to the Maui Fire Department, which shared “a big mahalo” to them on Instagram.

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The department said Bezos and Sanchez made an “extremely generous offer” to let firefighters use their aircraft from when the wildfires plagued Maui in August through September.

“The helicopter provided critical transportation for our essential workers to get to Lanai and Molokai to serve the community, filling the gap created by the changes to the Lanai Ferry schedule, and ensuring that we were able to provide uninterrupted service to these communities,” the Instagram post said.

The Post has sought comment from the fire department.

Bezos’ spokesperson confirmed to The Post that in the five months since the Hawaiian town of Lahaina was battered by flames, Bezos and Sanchez have, in fact, only given $15.5 million of their $100 million pledge to Maui.

However, as was stated in the duo’s initial post on the pledge back in August, the remaining $84.5 million “will be distributed in the coming years as the continuing needs reveal themselves.”

Shep Gordon, a talent manager in Hollywood who’s called Hawaii home for more than 50 years, told The Post: “I have known them [Bezos and Sanchez] through the years since I’ve come to Maui, and they’ve very quietly given money to so many organizations.”

Local officials and Maui-based nonprofit organizations are puzzled at where Bezos’ multimillion-dollar donation has gone. Though some speculated it went to the Hawaii Community Foundation, the group confirmed to Bloomberg that they “don’t have any information” on Bezos’ pledge. NYPJ

“I don’t know the full details, but I do know…what they do and what Oprah does is sort of unparalleled,” Gordon added, referencing fellow deep-pocketed part-time Maui resident Oprah Winfrey, who gave her time and support to wildfire evacuees at a makeshift shelter as the flames ravaged through the island over the summer.

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“They’ve really focused their resources and their energy to helping Maui,” Gordon said of Bezos and Sanchez. 

“I think the story was really unfair,” he added of the Bloomberg story on the billionaire’s philanthropy, which called him “hazy about future giving.”

Alice Lee, chair of the Maui County Council, has told Time magazine that recovery efforts on Hawaii’s second-largest island have been “painstakingly slow” because of how time-consuming it’s been to wade through miles of ashes.

Since the fires claimed the lives of 36 people and left hundreds of others injured and homeless, Bezos and Sanchez have also “announced the funding of a tuition-free preschool in Lahaina. That’s funded by the Bezos Day One fund rather than the Maui Fund,” their spokesperson added.

Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, meanwhile, has donated a staggering $16.5 billion since her 2019 divorce from Bezos and very explicitly lists the recipients of her gifts on her organization’s website. Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

According to the Lahaina Day One Academy’s website, an opening date has yet to be announced. When the school is ready for sessions, eligible 3- and 4-year-olds will be selected via a lottery process.

“Jeff and Lauren continue to be personally engaged,” the spokesperson said.

The sentiment contradicts Thursday’s story by Bloomberg, which cited Trisha Kehaulani Watson, the vice president of native Hawaiian nonprofit ‘Āina Momona, who said that her organization has yet to receive any of the money – and that Watson was unaware of anyone in her network of nonprofits receiving a dime from Bezos.

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Bezos has historically been vague about his philanthropy. After vowing to donate most of his fortune in a 2022 CNN interview, he hasn’t made any strides toward doing so. All the while, his net worth has gained more than $52 billion. Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

At least six other nonprofits working on the island in the wake of the fires, including the Maui United Way and the People’s Fund of Maui, also told Bloomberg they haven’t received funds from Bezos and Sanchez.

Some speculated to the outlet that the money went to the Hawaii Community Foundation, which has raised more than $177 million for its Maui Strong Fund, but a representative for the group told Bloomberg that they “don’t have any information” on Bezos’ pledge.

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