Acts of Generosity at Wilmington Food Distribution

National Headquarters  |  July 7, 2020
Volunteers assist residents in carrying boxes of food during a food distribution at Tzu Chi’s Wilmington Clinic. Photo by Jennifer Chien.

Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Dilber Shatursun

Wilmington, CA is an industrial enclave of the Los Angeles Harbor Region. It boasts the third-largest oil field in the continental United States, bringing both blue-collar jobs (attracting hourly workers) and pollution to the area.

A Hardworking Community

Demographically speaking, 87% of Wilmington, CA, residents are Latino and nearly half of the residents are first generation immigrants from Latin America. One fourth of the families in the Wilmington community are considered low-income households. This gave rise to growing needs.

Many residents wait in line on the sidewalk by the Tzu Chi Wilmington Clinic for a food distribution early in the morning. Photo by Jennifer Chien.
Tzu Chi volunteers arrive early to start setting up the food stations at the Wilmington Clinic parking lot. Photo by Jennifer Chien.

Before the Tzu Chi opened a permanent clinic in Wilmington in November 2010, Tzu Chi volunteers in the South Los Angeles area had already been serving the community for years. Specifically, they’d been working with local Catholic churches and community shelters since 1998, distributing essential supplies on a regular basis and counseling families in need. When Tzu Chi opened the clinic, a supplementary monthly food distribution became the prime time to encourage local residents to join Tzu Chi as volunteers. This has continued – even during the pandemic.

On June 20, 2020, more than 50 residents lined up by the clinic sidewalk with their shopping wagons early in the morning. While waiting for Tzu Chi volunteers to set up the distribution area, residents greeted each other. A few Tzu Chi volunteers explained that coming to the clinic introduced many neighbors to each other.

Going Out of Their Way to Help Others

Maria Olimpia, a Wilmington resident and volunteer. Photo by Dan Ferrara.

Wilmington resident Maria Olimpia has known Tzu Chi volunteers for eight years; she is often at the front of the line at distributions as a volunteer. With a smile, she shared, “I wish my husband and I could come as volunteers to help with distributions like before- but because of our health conditions, we can’t swing it.” Maria knew the neighborhood well and was one of the first local volunteers to join Tzu Chi after the clinic opened. She expressed how Tzu Chi educated her about vegetarianism and that she tried to maintain a vegetarian diet after learning about it. Maria told us it gave her a newfound appreciation for the fruits and vegetables volunteers gave out at the distributions.

Gloria Barraco (right) brings back two bamboo banks to Tzu Chi and shares her story with Tzu Chi volunteer Chaichih Huang (left). Photo by Jennifer Chien.
Mavila Lopez (left) comes to the distribution for the third time since she lost her job in March. Photo by Jennifer Chien.

Having received bamboo banks from Tzu Chi 12 years ago, local resident Gloria Barraco brought them back to Tzu Chi volunteers – all filled, including one that came from her sister. Gloria promised herself that she’d save at least $20 every month – even in the face of challenges, like putting food on the table. However, she persisted, wanting to contribute small change into the bamboo bank to help others in need.

Another resident, Marvila Lopez, came to Tzu Chi food distribution for the third time. Both her and her husband have been unemployed through the COVID-19 pandemic. After hearing about Tzu Chi’s efforts months ago, she came to her first distribution and learned of the story behind the bamboo banks. Feeling moved and hoping she could help others in need, she began saving coins. This time, her bank was full and she brought it back, contributing to the cycle of love.

Applied Without Discrimination from Tzu Chi Volunteers

Carmen Riera donates a bamboo bank filled with love to Tzu Chi Clinic in Wilmington every month.
Photo Jennifer Chien.

We also spoke with another resident, Carmen Riera, whose husband passed away two years ago. Having to cover her whole family’s expenses all on her own, she’s been coming to the food distributions hoping it would give her a break. It has; according to Carmen, she’s able to put food on the table and maintain the roof over her head for herself and her family. As a gesture of her thanks, she brings a filled bamboo bank back with her every month to pay it forward to others.

I’m truly grateful that Tzu Chi provided assistance to me and my family when we have been in desperate need. What moved me most was that when I came here for help, volunteers gave me love and care- without discrimination.

Maria Maderna is another Wilmington resident who came to pick up food for her family. She elaborated on the stress she’s gotten in dealing with her landlord, who has demanded rent since April. Visibly shaken, Maria explained that her husband died of leukemia a few years ago, and she has since raised their four children on her own. The eldest of her children, her daughter, used to help cover some expenses, but moved out six months ago, leaving most of it to Maria. To make matters worse, Maria was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Not being able to work during the pandemic either, she has faced severe stress. With Tzu Chi volunteers, she at least received a socially distanced shoulder to cry on.

Maria Madrna (right) explains the pressure she’s faced as the head of a household to volunteer Chaichih Huang (left). Photo by Jennifer Chien.
Maria Madrna's phone shows many messages from her landlord about when she can pay rent for the month and past due rent from April. Photo by Jennifer Chien.

Doing Good Deeds with Tzu Chi

With the distribution beginning at 9 AM, those who were first in line already received their groceries and had left by 10 AM. When Huiping Wang, the manager of Wilmington Clinic came out to observe the progress of the distribution, a neighbor across the street shouted out for her. That man handed her a bamboo bank. Huiping smiled and said, “That’s our neighbor who comes to our clinic regularly.”

Compared with the distributions in other communities, the residents from the Wilmington community brought back more bamboo banks. Huiping believes that this is related to Tzu Chi’s philosophy and has deep rooted in the community for over 20 years. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, every distribution was embedded with introducing the spirit of Tzu Chi and the story of the humble Bamboo Bank before the distribution began. In addition, the services from the clinic encouraged the residents to do good deeds with Tzu Chi.

Collectively, kind thoughts and good deeds from everyone will generate enough merit to triumph over calamities.

The food distribution is carried out in an orderly manner with the cooperation of the locals who are mostly regulars to the clinic. Photo by Jennifer Chien.

As the distribution came to an end around 11 o’clock in the morning, volunteers decided to deliver the remaining 30 sets of food to two tented homeless neighbourhoods. One of the tent areas was located in an alley behind a community church. Another tent area is by the local highway. Volunteers greeted them one by one and asked if they needed food, and helped some of them load the food into their tent or cart. Everyone who received the food responded with smiles on their faces and sincere thank you.

Every bamboo bank from the Wilmington community represented their love and kindness that will help others in need. This is the testimony how Tzu Chi’s bamboo banks influence the community. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the US economy, Tzu Chi USA’s Together while Apart, Compassion for the Long Haul campaign hopes to raise love from 500,000 donors. In the hope for a donation of $10 per person to raise $5 million for our mid- to long-term disaster relief funds. This will empower Tzu Chi USA to provide cash cards, grocery bags, PPE and more to help individuals and families in urgent need during this historic crisis.

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