A Day of Love and Appreciation in East Palo Alto

Northwest  |  May 15, 2024
Tzu Chi holds an early Mother’s Day appreciation activity for long-term care recipients’ families. Photo/Kate Lin

Written by Christina Chang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

As the spring breeze began to warm and May fast approached, Tzu Chi’s volunteer team in California’s Silicon Valley commenced preparations for an early Mother’s Day appreciation event. This activity was held for Tzu Chi’s long-term care recipient families on Saturday morning, April 27, 2024, in East Palo Alto. Here, children presented their parents with vibrant flower arrangements completed on the spot, while the volunteers offered additional gifts to parents.

The children who participated in the event arranged flowers with their own hands to express their gratitude to their mothers.
Children participating in the event express their love and gratitude with beautiful flower arrangements. Photo/Jason Sheu

Tzu Chi’s Silicon Valley volunteer team has been caring for East Palo Alto community members for over a decade, starting with the “Happy Campus” program, which assists students and parents in the local school district to enhance participation and learning. Five years ago, they expanded their outreach and deepened their care for underprivileged families in the local area through collaborations with school districts and community food banks. Thus, the “Happy Campus” program upgraded to the “Happy Community” initiative. 

Silicon Valley volunteers prepare the appreciation activity with their whole hearts to give single-parent families an early taste of Mother’s Day sweetness. Photo/Kate Lin

As many families in the community are single-parent households, the children also shared an awareness for the importance of expressing their gratitude in various ways. “I hope that children can arrange a pot of flowers in the appreciation activity and give it to their parents to show their gratitude for what they have done for them,” said Michelle Wong, a Tzu Chi volunteer.

Appreciation & Love Through Flower Arrangement

Before the flower arrangement activity began, Tzu Chi volunteers explained the importance of environmental protection, such as how to integrate the 3 R’s of waste management—reduce, reuse, and recycle—into their lives. The event additionally shared the concept of Mother Earth as the protector of human beings; therefore, humans should also protect and love it.

Volunteer Ye Caixia explains to children the importance of being environmentally friendly and caring for Mother Earth.
Volunteer Caixia Ye explains the importance of environmental sustainability and loving Mother Earth. Photo/Kate Lin

The flower arrangement instructor then guided the children in arranging flowers, showing their beauty in small containers to be presented to their parents. The children were fascinated as they placed the flowers one by one into their flower pots and filled them with love. By the end, each looked upon their work with satisfaction. 

With the help of volunteer Manya Zhu, students discover how to infuse the art of flower arrangement with a unique spirit. Photo/Jason Sheu
Anna and her daughter hug each other and say I love you to each other during the Mother's Day flower dedication. Photography/Jason Sheu

The children wished to express their gratitude for their parents, who take care of them and assist them in facing the challenges of school and growing up. However, many children don’t necessarily know how to convey their feelings to their parents in words. Tzu Chi’s flower arrangement activity gave the children a creative outlet for expressing their love. The children hugged their parents as they presented their handmade gifts. For parents, this act was worth more than one thousand words. 

Students present flowers to their parents, hugging them to express their affection. Photo/Jason Sheu, Kate Lin

Promoting Physical & Mental Health

Tzu Chi volunteers also prepared gifts for the hardworking parents in the community. The practical items included day-to-day cleaning supplies and an on-site vegetarian healthy meal cooking lesson. 

In the high-priced environment of California’s Silicon Valley, the dietary habits and financial pressures of life tend to heighten the “three highs” of chronic disease – high blood sugar or diabetes, high blood pressure or hypertension, and high blood lipids or hyperlipidemia – in addition to mental health management.

Volunteers use vegetarian diet classes to bring families in the community information about improving their physical and mental health. Photo/Kate Lin

The purpose of the healthy diet classes is not only to learn healthy cooking and how to cook delicious meals, but also to learn how to discover your inner compassion.

Tzu Chi volunteers planned to use the second weekend morning of each month, starting in June, to organize healthy cooking classes for families in the community. Therefore, Tzu Chi volunteers held a vegetarian meal course introduction for parents during the appreciation event, demonstrating how to make healthy, tasty vegetarian meals easily, and encouraging parents to sign up for the regular Saturday classes.

Expressions of Love

Blanca is a single mother, three of whose four children have special needs. The family of five lives in a small one-bedroom apartment, and Blanca does cleaning work to support her family. Two years ago, when her two older children became self-supporting and began to help their mother share household chores, the pressures of life eased. Blanca’s third child, Louis, has a developmental disability and is currently a sophomore in high school. Tzu Chi volunteers invited Louis to join the Happy Community’s Youth Bright program, where he assists at the food bank and other community events as a volunteer outside of school hours. These activities have also visibly boosted Louis’s self-confidence around others.

Louis happily presented the flowers to his mother to express his love for her.
Louis happily presents his mother with a handmade flower arrangement. Photo/Christina Chang

On the day of the appreciation activity, Louis arrived early in the morning to help out as a volunteer. He also carefully made a flower arrangement, and presented the carefully made gift to his mom with a smile. With her always optimistic smile, Blanca said, “I was so happy when my child presented the flowers because they were really beautiful.” Afterward, Blanca attended the vegetarian healthy diet introduction. “The food looked delicious, and I thought I could try it and see what it really tasted like. When I did, it was really good,” she said with great interest. 

Years prior, Francisco’s wife had passed away due to illness. Today, he is a hardworking single father with five children. He suffered deeply from the loss of his wife, and works laboriously to raise his children. He once fell into depression. Tzu Chi volunteers cared for his family and encouraged him over this prolonged period, which helped him feel more like himself again, little by little. Upon receiving a flower arrangement gift from his three youngest children, Francisco was touched. “I was so happy when I received the flower arrangement, and I was really happy when my children gave me thanks; they expressed their love for me, and I also felt my love for them at the same time.”

Francisco's family took photos and left warm memories during Mother's Day activities.
Francisco’s family poses for a photo to remember the appreciation activity. Photo/Kate Lin
Anna and her daughter hugged each other and said I love you to each other during the Mother's Day flower laying event.
Anna and her daughter hug each other during the flower arrangement activity. Photo/Jason Sheu

Ana is also a single mom who works two jobs to make ends meet. Two years ago, her son passed away due to a brain condition. On the day of the event, she was accompanied by her daughter. Tzu Chi volunteers helped Anna when she was in distress, assisting the family with their needs during her son’s medical treatment. Since then, Anna has been a regular donor. When her daughter shyly presented her with a handmade flower arrangement, Anna accepted it with enthusiasm. She hugged and kissed her daughter, saying, “I love you so much. Thank you, and I love your beautiful flower arrangement.” After attending the healthy diet course introduction, Anna, who lives with a chronic illness, happily shared, “I’m grateful to Tzu Chi for organizing the healthy diet introduction. It’s not about a diet, but how to make ourselves healthier. I’m grateful to Tzu Chi for everything they’ve done for us.” 

I’m thankful to Tzu Chi for organizing this activity so that we can feel the goodness that all of this brings to our families and the community.

Youth Volunteers & the Youth Bright Program

A total of 44 adults and 45 children from the community participated in the appreciation activity, including 32 parents and 12 volunteers from the local community. The event was prepared by 24 Tzu Chi volunteers, including five local high school students who joined the Youth Bright program. The five youth members went to the site early in the morning and worked together to give their hearts to the community with the guidance of Tzu Chi volunteers.

Five high school students from the local community joined the "Youth Light Project" and contributed to the community together with volunteers in various activities.
Five local high school students who joined the Youth Bright program work together to give to the community during various activities. Photo/Jason Sheu

Camilla, a member of the Youth Bright program, helped pack gifts, set up the venue, and ensured the event ran smoothly. “When I arranged the flowers, I wanted to make them beautiful, and my mom would love them,” she said, smiling. “I am so happy that I can offer these flowers to my mom.” Camilla also arranged an extra pot of flowers for volunteer Michelle Wong, who has cared for her family for a long time.

Camila volunteers and performs community service to repay the care she receives from her family.
Camilla volunteers to give back with community service. Photo/Kate Lin
People in the community brought bamboo tubes full of love to spread the cycle of love.
A bamboo bank brought by a resident passes the cycle of love onward. Photo/Kate Lin

Being able to work with Tzu Chi really helps me physically and mentally. Serving the children and the community is all I can do to give back, and today, I was able to arrange flowers to give to my mom, which is the best way to give thanks to her.

A resident and his family also brought a bamboo bank to the event and donated its contents to Tzu Chi. He expressed his thanks for the care they provide to the community and for the day’s activity, saying, “I’m so grateful for all the valuable support the volunteers give to us, and I’d like to be a volunteer in the future to serve the community and to give back.”

Tzu Chi volunteers had striven to bring warmth and care to families through the Happy Community before May. During this sunny gathering in East Palo Alto, a flower arrangement activity brought about another day of joy. Alongside a healthy cooking course effused with warmth and fragrant scents, guests greeted spring in the embrace of loved ones. 

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