A Journey to Bring Heartfelt Care to Healthcare Workers in California

National Headquarters  |  April 29, 2020
Tzu Chi volunteers receive cheers and a warm welcome from healthcare workers when they deliver medical masks and bread to Upland Rehabilitation & Care Center. Photo / Jennifer Chien

Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

“Sincerity is the way to Heaven” is a dictum attributed to Mencius, a Chinese Confucian philosopher said to be born around 2,400 years ago. For Tzu Chi volunteers, this ancient wisdom is as relevant as ever, especially at a momentous time as this, when the world is experiencing a pandemic of unprecedented global proportions.

As Tzu Chi USA continues to donate precious medical supplies to hospitals and government officials, the volunteers distributing them do so driven by genuine concern about the safety of healthcare workers and first responders on the frontlines of attending to those directly impacted by COVID-19.

A Gift of Fresh Bread for Distribution to Healthcare Providers

The sincere efforts of Tzu Chi volunteers in the Los Angeles area caught the attention of management at an 85°C Bakery Cafe in Fullerton, CA – the business, with roots in Taiwan, has 1,000 locations worldwide. Wanting to contribute to Tzu Chi USA’s missions, on April 15, the bakery donated and delivered 1,600 delicious freshly baked loaves of bread to Tzu Chi Academy in Walnut, for distribution in California.

Volunteers unload fresh bread donated from the 85°C Bakery Cafe factory. Photo / Sharon Chu
The generous donation of 1,600 freshly baked loaves of bread brings joy to the volunteers accepting the delivery, who are eager to begin distributing it. Photo / courtesy of James Wu

Dave Lazaro, Marketing Manager at 85°C Bakery Cafe, shared that, as is the case for many retail businesses, the café in Fullerton was severely affected by the pandemic, with its overall sales significantly reduced. However, the company, expressing a spirit of solidarity with the community, had been delivering freshly baked goods to the University of California, Los Angeles Community Hospital, LAC + USC (Los Angeles County, University of Southern California) Medical Center, and other medical institutions.

The donation to Tzu Chi USA came about because, as Dave explained, someone at a hospital 85°C Bakery Café was bringing bread to, is a Tzu Chi volunteer, which is how he learned about the foundation and its activities during the pandemic. Wanting to expand the reach of 85°C’s bread donations, and trusting that its volunteers would distribute the baked goods to healthcare workers in the community, the company decided to collaborate with Tzu Chi.

Dave Lazaro (second left), Marketing Manager of a 85°C Bakery Cafe, donates fresh baked goods to Tzu Chi USA. Photo / courtesy of James Wu

Tzu Chi USA volunteers in the Inland Empire region adjacent to Los Angeles immediately formulated a plan for the next day, to deliver 85°C baked goods along with medical supplies to four healthcare facilities. Everyone was excited about the journey ahead, which would take them from Loma Linda west as far as Whittier and back, around 115 miles in total; their hearts focused on how frontline healthcare workers would joyfully welcome the donated supplies.

Whittier Hospital Medical Center

Tzu Chi volunteers bearing medical supplies and freshly baked goods for donation set out on April 16, aiming to reach four healthcare facilities in one afternoon. Whittier Hospital Medical Center, providing healthcare to residents of the southeast San Gabriel Valley, was the farthest stop on the trip. Due to the influx of patients diagnosed with COVID-19, the hospital had converted an entire floor to accommodate and treat them.

Rick Castro, CEO of Whittier Hospital Medical Center, led a team of healthcare workers to accept the delivery of bread and medical supplies. He was pleased to say that Tzu Chi was the first charity organization to donate supplies, which demonstrates a marvelous initiative that is of direct aid to healthcare workers during the pandemic crisis.

Rick also shared that some people from the area had been delivering breakfast, lunch, and snacks to the hospital lately, hoping to comfort staff on duty. The spread of COVD-19 has indeed put extreme pressure on frontline healthcare workers. Still, in his view, their excellent performance and proper response to the situation are inseparable from the support of the community.

Tzu Chi USA volunteers deliver bread and medical supplies to Whittier Hospital Medical Center. Photo / Jennifer Chien
Rick Castro (right), CEO of Whittier Hospital Medical Center, and anesthesiologist Dr. Chin Seang Lim (left) accept the donation on behalf of the hospital. Photo / Jennifer Chien

The healthcare staff on hand revealed that although the hospital’s stock of personal protective equipment (PPE) has remained at safe levels, the facility declares the amount of inventory left daily, to raise awareness, in the hope that they reuse the precious PPE when possible. Moreover, the stress is ongoing, extending beyond the premises of the hospital:

During the pandemic, as I continue working at the hospital, I’m afraid of possible infection to my family. When I get home, I eat alone, sleep in the guest room, and maintain a safe distance with my wife and children.

Steve Sarmatian (first left), CEO of Inland Valley Care & Rehabilitation Center, and administrator Brenda Awe-Ruble (second left) accept Tzu Chi USA’s donation on behalf of the center. Photo / Jennifer Chien

Inland Valley Care and Rehabilitation Center

Another stop on the mission was Inland Valley Care and Rehabilitation Center. The needs of the staff at this center were known thanks to the efforts of Tzu Chi’s Youth Association – Tzu Shao – whose young volunteers visit seniors here regularly. The center’s CEO, Steve Sarmatian, and Brenda Awe-Ruble, the administrator, welcomed the fresh baked goods and medical masks and also expressed gratitude for Tzu Chi’s long-term support for the facility.

Upland Rehabilitation and Care Center

At the next stop, Upland Rehabilitation and Care Center, Hazel Cohen, Assistant Administrator, who was Tzu Chi’s point of contact, was waiting at the entrance. Seeing the volunteers arriving with the donation of medical masks and boxes of bread, she opened the door and invited her colleagues to come out to welcome the Tzu Chi team.

Upland Rehabilitation & Care Center Assistant Administrator, Hazel Cohen (left), Ria Ginting, Director of Nursing Service (second left), and Dr. Ted Chen (middle) accept the donation of medical supplies and bread from Tzu Chi USA. Photo / Jennifer Chien
Tzu Chi volunteers also give the healthcare workers thank you cards drawn by children involved with Tzu Shao – Tzu Chi Youth Association. Photo / Jennifer Chien

Ria Ginting, Director of Nursing Service at Upland Rehabilitation and Care Center, expressed her gratitude and said she would encourage the center’s healthcare workers to support Tzu Chi USA’s medical outreach events in the future. At the same time, she shared that she would personally donate to Tzu Chi USA online, as well.

Dr. Ted Chen, a Chinese-American physician, affiliated with Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center, was assisting the doctors at Upland Rehabilitation and Care Center that day. He believes the current prevention measures taken at nursing homes are essential and hopes that families understand the intention behind the restrictions implemented at this time.

Heritage Gardens Healthcare Center

The team of Tzu Chi USA volunteers then completed their journey at the Heritage Gardens Health Care Center in Loma Linda.
A nurse from the center had called Tzu Chi directly, stating that they needed PPE, having run out of medical masks. The Director of Nursing, Ellyse Pandjaitan, led a team of nurses to greet volunteers as they arrived bearing the desperately needed PPE. She exclaimed with a broad smile, “I can’t believe you’re really here with the supplies!”

Volunteers deliver medical supplies and bread to Heritage Gardens Health Care Center. Photo / Jennifer Chien
Volunteer James Wu (center) and Suong Chang (right) share Tzu Chi’s mission with Ellyse Pandjaitan, Director of Nursing, as she signs for the donation. Photo / Jennifer Chien

Their Sincere Hope to Be of Help Fulfilled

Each Tzu Chi volunteer was grateful and fulfilled upon seeing that the healthcare workers felt a sense of relief when receiving the medical supplies they were providing, aware of how they’ll be better able to protect themselves. In turn, these hardworking and dedicated healthcare workers can now keep their patients safer, as well.

As they hand over the donation of supplies, Tzu Chi volunteers bow, showing their respect for those serving the community. Photo / Jennifer Chien
On this mission, volunteer Jenny Lo (right) was fulfilling her vow to serve the community on the day of her birthday. Photo / Jennifer Chien

Suong Chang, who coordinated the donation route for April 16, was thrilled that the bread from 85°C Bakery Cafe was part of the distribution that day, making the aid delivered more plentiful – and even tasty! Volunteer James Wu shared that everyone was happy to be part of the mission, doing their part, along with other members of the community, to support healthcare workers.
For Jenny Lo, who volunteered to join the mission on her birthday, it was well worth it. Taking part reminded her of the guidance in one of Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s Jing Si Aphorisms, “The Buddha’s teachings are not only to be studied but realized through actual practice and compassionate acts of giving.”

As this delivery journey drew to a close that day, each volunteer was already thinking ahead, aspiring to serve on a next mission, keeping the love and care flowing without interruption.

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