Oprah Winfrey Says Maui Wildfires Fund Criticism “Took the Focus” Away From the People Impacted

Oprah Winfrey addressed the online criticisms she and Dwayne Johnson have faced following the launch of their People’s Fund of Maui, which distributes cash directly to people who were affected by the wildfires on the Hawaii island.

Winfrey and Johnson contributed an initial payment of $10 million to the fund and invited the public to contribute their own donation for the rest of it. When it launched at the end of August, critics began questioning why the two celebrities didn’t just fund it entirely themselves.

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“All the online [conversations] — being slammed, lies, conspiracy theories — really took the focus off of what was the most important thing and that was the people of Maui,” Winfrey said on a recent CBS Mornings appearance. “I was on the ground talking to lots of people trying to figure out how do I best help.”

She continued by explaining that, at first, she was contributing material things, like generators and towels, and as she spoke to people, she felt they wanted agency. Then, Gayle King’s son, Will, shared an article with Winfrey about Dolly Parton starting a people’s fund in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, after the wildfires that took place there in 2017.

“She had a concert,” the talk show host said. “She raised $12.5 million and then directly gave it to the people, $1,000 a month. I thought, ‘Whoa, that’s the idea.’ [Money] directly into the hands of the people. So, to set up the infrastructure for that, The Rock and his team and my team, we were on, I don’t know how many Zooms to set up the infrastructure for the verification process to be able to drop money into people’s accounts.”

They thought about how they have both given to charity their whole lives and felt like starting with $10 million worked because it was enough to kick things off before opening the Maui wildfires fund up to people who wanted to help but didn’t know how.

“I was so excited about it. Then, I got up the next morning, and I saw all of this vitriol, and I was like, ‘Whoa, what happened here?’ So, this is what I want to say,” Winfrey shared. “I think, in the beginning, so many people were calling asking, ‘Where do we give our money to?’ So, I thought, ‘I’m gonna give people a place to… We’re gonna create something.'”

Despite the pushback she and Johnson have received for the fund, Winfrey noted she still thinks it’s a strong idea.

“Putting money directly into the hands of the people is a significant thing,” she concluded. “I will say that, as of today, 2,200 people have been cleared and verified. Those people are going to get a notice from the People Fund of Maui and are going to have the money.”

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