A Milestone for Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region Volunteers in Houston

Southern  |  January 24, 2021
Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region launches a permanent food distribution program in Houston, Texas, beginning on October 10, 2020. Photo/Jong Wu

Written by Jennifer Chien, Jean Hsu, Pen-Chi Liu
Translated by Pen-Chi Liu
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

With the pandemic spreading since early 2020 and hurricanes repeatedly affecting Houston’s economy, many residents struggle to make ends meet. In response, Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region volunteers contacted the Houston Food Bank and proposed to become a partner in providing food aid for the community. 

In June, Tzu Chi volunteers and the food bank collaborated in providing three food distributions. Subsequently, thanks to every volunteer’s dedication and hard work, Houston Food Bank officially approved Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region campus as their permanent site for distribution events. 

The following distribution, which took place on October 10, 2020, marked the first milestone of what is sure to be a long-lasting and fruitful partnership that will benefit many struggling and food-insecure families in the region.

Launching a Permanent Partnership

Many seniors line up early that morning and wait patiently to receive a supply of food. Photo/Jong Wu

Although Tzu Chi and the Houston Food Bank had scheduled the distribution on October 10 to begin at 11:00 AM, many families had started lining up as early as 8:00 that morning. When the team of volunteers – who arrived at 9:00 AM to set up the site – saw so many people patiently waiting, hoping to obtain some free food for themselves or their families, they rushed in their preparations so they could start the event sooner than planned.

Volunteers get a temperature check when they sign-in on the morning of the October 10 distribution. Photo/Jean Hsu

When the Houston Food Bank’s truck pulled up outside Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region’s offices delivering 12,000 lbs of food, everyone worked together to unload the fresh fruits, vegetables, and other supplies, then pack them into individual portions for distribution. Tzu Chi volunteers also added noodles and Jing Si Rice inside each box, bringing more nutrition and blessings, coming all the way from Taiwan, for each recipient and their family.

Volunteers work together as a team to unload fresh vegetables from the Houston Food Bank’s truck. Photo/Jean Hsu
Volunteers pack an assortment of food items into individual boxes for distribution. Photo/Jong Wu

A total of 47 volunteers participated in this venture of love, benefiting 234 households with essential provisions of food.

Food Distributions Benefit So Many

Food distribution benefits many, including families in need and [the young] volunteers [it inspires]. [it] also potentially [helps] recruit more locals to join the Tzu Chi volunteers and helps volunteers enhance their [spiritual] cultivation. Through our experience, Tzu Chi volunteers completed the distribution of ten food categories effectively and efficiently on the 10th.

Tzu Chi USA Southern Region Executive Director, Taishan Huang, was grateful for all the volunteers’ hard work in becoming approved as a permanent partner for the Houston Food Bank. “The first three distributions had gone well. The food bank felt our location is good and our volunteers are respectful to the families, so in October, we were approved to become a permanent partner of the food bank,” he said.

 Tzu Chi USA’s food distribution events have also been recognized by and gained support from the local community. Members of the Formosa Association of Student Cultural Ambassadors (FASCA), an organization aiming to help teenagers learn Chinese culture, leadership skills, and teamwork through community services and cultural experiences, will begin to participate in the food distributions starting in October. 

Every month, 10-15 students from FASCA will volunteer at the food giveaways, along with their parents. Such community assistance helps Tzu Chi volunteers greatly during the actual events. At the same time, these activities plant a seed of compassion and kindness in participants’ hearts. The ripples of that attitude of love and respect will then touch everyone they meet and spread even further through each interaction.

The young community volunteers are very helpful and full of energy at the distribution. Photo/Jong Wu

Time to Volunteer

June Chen, who brought the FASCA students and parents to the distribution, said that after COVID-19 started to spread, there are so many people in need of help. Volunteering at the distribution was the first time these students actually experienced meeting families who need help to put food on the table. 

 June explained that this first-hand encounter with people in need had a considerable impact on them. They especially admired all the senior Tzu Chi volunteers who worked so hard under the scorching sun, moving heavy grocery boxes. Overall, it was a broad and excellent learning opportunity and experience.

After becoming a permanent partner of the Houston Food Bank, Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region volunteers will conduct food distribution events regularly. The plan is to hold a distribution twice a month or once every two weeks, serving low-income and undocumented families in the community.

Every box of food supplies contains fresh fruits, vegetables, and various staples. Photo/Jong Wu
Volunteers work together in teams and complete the distribution efficiently. Photo/Jean Hsu

Roger Lin, a volunteer coordinating these food distributions, hopes that these activities will attract more local and young volunteers to join Tzu Chi USA to serve the community and learn more about the foundation’s charity missions and Buddhist philosophy.

The Buddha’s teachings are not only to be studied but realized through actual practice and compassionate acts of giving.

Tzu Chi volunteers also invited their friends to participate in the distribution. Gavin Tsai and Greg Walker both joined at a friend’s invitation. For Gavin, it was the first time participating in a Tzu Chi activity. He was happy to have the opportunity to help people in need and looked forward to participating in future distribution events. 

As for Greg, he summed up the experience by saying:

With the coronavirus [that] basically shut down the world and put a lot of people out of work, I think this is one of the most worthy things to volunteer your time for.

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