Oprah Responds To ‘Vitriol’ Over Maui Wildfire Fundraising Campaign: ‘Whoa, What Happened Here?’

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Oprah Winfrey addressed the intense backlash she faced for creating a fund which was meant to help the victims of the Maui wildfire.

The billionaire TV personality appeared Tuesday on CBS Mornings to promote her new book, “Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier.” The topic of conversation shifted to some of the criticism she and fellow Hawaiian property owner Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have received for starting the People’s Fund of Maui, per The Daily Mail.

Winfrey and Johnson each contributed $5 million to kick off fundraising efforts and petitioned followers to donate as well. This led to a lot of negative comments from people who believed Oprah and Johnson should have given more because they are so wealthy.

Oprah connected the situation back to some concepts she explores in the book, saying, “Well, this is a really great point about being happier in the midst of an onslaught of being terrorized and vilified online. I will say this: I came out of this experience with so much more compassion for young kids, because I was thinking, what if I didn’t really know who I am? It will take you out.”

“So all of the online attacks, lies, conspiracy theories, really took the focus off of what was the most important thing, which is the people of Maui,” Oprah said. “So this idea came about because I was on the ground, talking to lots of people, trying to figure out how I can best help.”

She mentioned how she started out by donating “material things” such as generators and towels to the victims of the fire. But then the talk show host decided it would be better to give money to the victims directly. 

“Then I started talking to people and people really wanted their own agency,” she said. Oprah mentioned how she tried to mimic Dolly Parton’s method of providing aid to victims of the 2017 Gatlinburg, Tennessee, fires. Parton did a benefit concert and handed out the proceeds herself, The Daily Mail noted. 

“I thought, ‘Whoa! That’s the idea. Getting the money into the hands, directly into the hands of the people; set up the infrastructure for that,’” Oprah explained. “[Johnson and I] thought, because both of us have given to charities our whole lives, that starting the fund with $10 million would be a great idea. We’ll do what Dolly did, get other people to give money and then we’ll put it directly into people’s bank accounts,” she went on.

“I was so excited. I was so excited about it, and then I got up the next morning, and I saw all of this vitriol, and I was, like, ‘Whoa, what happened here?’”Oprah said. 

“This is what I want to say. I want to say that, in the beginning, so many people were calling, asking, ‘Where do we give our money to?’ So I thought, I’m going to give people a place to give it,” she went on.

Oprah also mentioned how the fund is a success despite that backlash and that 2,200 people will be getting money from the fund deposited into their accounts. 

She said it’s “sad that we’re in this state in our country,” referring to the online criticism.

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