Oprah Winfrey addressed the online criticism she and Dwayne Johnson faced following the launch of their People’s Fund of Maui, which distributes cash directly to people affected by the wildfires on 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 remainder. When it launched in late August, critics began wondering why the two celebrities didn’t fund it entirely themselves.
“All the online (conversations) – being criticized, lies, conspiracy theories – really distracted from what was most important and that was the people of Maui,” Winfrey said recently at a CBS mornings appearance. “I was on the ground talking to a lot of people trying to figure out how I could best help.”
She went on to explain that she initially contributed material things like generators and towels, and as she spoke to people she felt they wanted freedom of choice. Then Gayle King’s son Will shared an article with Winfrey about Dolly Parton starting a community 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 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 were on, I don’t know how many Zooms 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 their entire lives to charity and felt like they should start with $10 million because that was enough to get things started before Maui’s wildfire fund opened up to people who wanted help, but didn’t know how.
“I was so excited about it. Then I got up the next morning and saw all this vitriol, and I thought, ‘Wow, what happened here?’ So this is what I want to say,” Winfrey said. “I think in the beginning there were so many people calling and asking, ‘What do we give our money to?’ 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 the hands of the people is an important thing,” she concluded. “I will say that as of today, 2,200 people have been cleared and verified. Those people will receive a message from the People Fund of Maui and receive the money.”