Oprah Winfrey addressed the online criticism she and Dwayne Johnson faced after launching their People’s Fund of Maui, which distributes cash directly to people affected by the wildfires on the island of Hawaii.
Winfrey and Johnson made an initial payment of $10 million to the fund and asked the public to donate the rest of their own. When it launched in late August, critics wondered why the two celebrities didn’t just finance it entirely themselves.
“Everything online [conversations] — criticism, lies, conspiracy theories — really took the focus away from what was most important, and that was the people of Maui,” Winfrey said in a recent interview CBS Morning Look. “I was there and spoke to a lot of people to find out how I could best help.”
She continued by explaining that at first she contributed material items like generators and towels, and as she talked to people, she sensed that they wanted agency. Then Gayle King’s son Will Winfrey shared an article about Dolly Parton’s creation of a people’s fund in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, after the wildfires that occurred there in 2017.
“She had a concert,” the talk show host said. “She raised $12.5 million and then gave it directly to 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 were, I don’t know how many Zooms had to set up the infrastructure for the verification process to be able to deposit money into people’s accounts. ”
They thought about how they have both given to charity their entire lives and felt that starting with $10 million worked because it was enough to get things going before they left the Maui wildfire funds opened to people who wanted to help but didn’t know how.
“I was so excited about it. Then when I got up the next morning I saw all this vitriol and thought, ‘Wow, what happened here?’ So that’s what I want to say,” Winfrey shared. “I think in the beginning there were so many people calling and asking, ‘Where do we put our money?’ So I thought, ‘I’m going to give people a place to… We’re going to create something.'”
Despite the pushback she and Johnson have received for the fund, Winfrey noted that she still thinks it’s a strong idea.
“Putting money directly into people’s hands is an important thing,” she concluded. “I can say that 2,200 people have been cleared and verified to date. Those people will get a notice from the People Fund of Maui and get the money.”