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Utah barbershop collects multiple shipping containers full of donations to send to Tonga

Posted at 9:51 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 23:54:19-05

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah — Barbershops have always been gathering places for those in the community.

As a center for all things good looks as well as conversation, it's only natural that the Fresh Fade Away Barber Shop in Pleasant Grove would be a place for those to talk about a disaster a world away.

The shop is owned by Nafe Latu, a Tongan American who came to the United States in 2011.

He was following his lifelong dream, and it became a reality when he opened his shop.

“Ever since I opened the shop, I was a big community guy,” Latu said Friday.

But on the day a tsunami hit Tonga almost two weeks ago, he got had a phone conversation that made his heart drop.

Latu's brother was on the other end.

“When I called him, he was in the middle of, like, evacuating his whole family," he said. "All he said to me [is] it was raining rocks, and then the conversation got cut off. And when I called back, it didn't go through.”

The next few days were rough. No contact with the island nation for anyone meant he didn’t know what had happened.

“My brother was pretty much my parents, you know? He kind of raised me," Latu said. “It was a lot of 'what if.' I didn't know if my brother was still alive. So I don't know if I have to send something; I don't know who am I going to send it with.”

Through the worry and the fear, he hatched an idea: to use the barbershop as a way to gather things to send over.

So Latu decided to ask for donations of supplies on the shop's Facebook page, and “it just kind of exploded.”

Every single day, the shop owner was getting new things brought in — even from people who had never been to his shop before.

“It's kind of mind-blowing to see how much we've actually gotten from the community,” said Tanner Orton, another barber at the shop. "It's been awesome. It's been really cool ... to be a part of it.”

The whole shop got in on the action of taking supplies and putting them in the back room.

The goal at first was to fill a large 84" x 48" x 48” shipping crate with supplies, which was a very lofty goal.

“By the time it hit Sunday, I'm like, looking at all the donation and I'm like... 'We might it might be trouble,'" Latu said with a laugh.

Not the kind of trouble as in too little, but as in too much.

The donations exceeded expectations, and a second shipping crate was needed for the excess.

After just a week of donations, they had to close the drive down Thursday because they have filled three shipping containers — stuffed to the peak with the supplies that those on the island nation so desperately needed.

There was one thing that Latu said absolutely had to be in the crates, and that was Irish Spring soap.

“I came across the soap of Irish spring,” he said, becoming emotional, “and I told my guys the smell of Irish Spring, when I was a little kid on the island... that was the taste of America.”

With plenty of Irish Spring to bring the feeling of America to those on his home island, he and others packed the load up and sent it over Thursday night.

Fortunately, he is back in touch with his family and is hearing that there is a lot of devastation where they live, but thankfully, everyone is okay.

The containers are heading to his brother so his family can distribute everything, but his brother has no idea just how much is coming.

“He's super excited, but he doesn't even know how much stuff is going through... [to] come his way,” Latu said. “It's a beautiful experience, and I won't ever forget how it feels... coming into the shop and seeing all the donations.”