Aid for Residents Displaced After a San Francisco Apartment Building Fire

Northwest  |  March 31, 2021
Tzu Chi volunteers offer care after an apartment building fire in the Tenderloin neighborhood of downtown San Francisco, providing cash cards and food supplies. Photo/Lulu Yin

Written by Christina Chang, Lulu Yin
Translated by Melody Cao
Edited by Diana Chang, Ida Eva Zielinska

On August 31, 2020, a fire ignited in an apartment complex in downtown San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but 38 households were affected, and more than 70 residents evacuated temporarily. The local American Red Cross sent Tzu Chi USA’s San Francisco branch a notice informing them of the incident. While volunteers mobilized to help those affected by the blaze, Tzu Chi volunteer Paul Ng immediately went to the fire site to assess damages.

On the Border Between Affluence and Poverty

San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, located downtown, is bordered by some of the city’s wealthiest districts. And yet, it has a bad reputation. People advise tourists to avoid the area. You can often see drug deals taking place boldly out in the open, and garbage litters the streets. At the same time, many who are struggling with homelessness live on the streets of this troubled community. 

When Tzu Chi volunteer Paul Ng drove into the neighborhood, he was cautious about where it would be safest to park his car. Then, as he searched on foot for the apartment building that had just been on fire, he caught himself holding his breath nervously on occasion while walking along streets known for their shady reputation.

Precisely because of the neighborhood’s negative socio-economic factors, rent in Tenderloin is substantially below the norm compared with the elevated housing prices in other parts of San Francisco, making the area particularly attractive to low-income households. However, the fire had abruptly made these struggling families’ situation even more vulnerable without warning.  

After evacuating from their fire-damaged apartments, it was difficult for many residents to find temporary housing. Fortunately, the American Red Cross provided shelter in hotels for senior and physically challenged residents. However, because many of these individuals couldn’t easily leave the hotel regularly to get food or faced obstacles to ordering meals online, they needed additional help. 

Consequently, the American Red Cross contacted Tzu Chi USA about providing emergency aid for the temporarily displaced residents of fire-damaged apartments. In particular, they knew that the easy-to-prepare noodles and Jing Si Instant Rice that Tzu Chi volunteers are known to provide would keep the most vulnerable residents from going hungry by fulfilling their short-term meal needs.

Tzu Chi volunteers provide noodles and Jing Si Instant Rice to residents affected by an apartment building fire in San Francisco, helping to solve their short-term meal needs. Photo/Lulu Yin

After Paul had completed his disaster assessment on-site, Daisy Liao, another Tzu Chi volunteer, called the residents one by one from home, going down a list provided by the American Red Cross. She offered sincere condolences and confirmed information about their current situation and the number of family members in the household to determine the scope of aid required, which would comprise cash cards and Tzu Chi’s instant foods.

The volunteers then held a disaster relief distribution at Tzu Chi USA’s San Francisco branch offices. Since the premises don’t have a parking lot that would allow drive-through distribution, care recipients queued on the sidewalk outside the entrance and entered the office to receive their care package one at a time, limiting the number of people indoors at any given moment. Everyone waiting outside was patient and kindly respected the rules of social distancing.

Two care recipients wait their turn to receive disaster relief following a fire in the apartment building where they reside. Photo/Lulu Yin

A Dedicated Team

Tzu Chi volunteers Paul Ng, Daisy Liao, and Lulu Yin worked as a team to organize and host the disaster aid distribution, grateful to help the residents affected by fire damages by providing the support they needed. Moreover, while serving the public during the pandemic, volunteers have added careful cleaning and sanitizing to their list of duties to ensure everyone’s health and safety. 

Paul Ng has always been attentive and considerate in his service as a volunteer. After each care recipient left, he immediately wiped down all the items and chairs they used with alcohol and sprayed some into the air, aiming to sanitize everything before welcoming the next person into the office. 

Paul Ng joined Tzu Chi as a volunteer in 2016. He speaks softly, but his actions are decisive and strong. When undertaking tasks, he is always the first to contribute. And when communicating with people, Paul Ng’s gentle words and tone always ease disaster survivors’ distress, making them feel his heartwarming care.

Paul Ng sanitizes the area used by each care recipient with alcohol before the next person arrives. Photo/Lulu Yin

Daisy Liao joined Tzu Chi as a volunteer in 2017. She is a full-time wife and mother who is always busy taking care of two kids and her mother-in-law. And yet, she still finds time to serve the community with the support of her mom and younger sister, who sometimes accompany Daisy or take care of the children while she dedicates her time as a volunteer. 

At this disaster relief distribution, Daisy served the people affected by the fire for four hours. She is sentimental by nature and often becomes tearful when she hears disaster survivors share their painful experiences, always treating each aid recipient with attention and care as if they were a member of her immediate family.

Despite being a full-time mother and wife, Daisy Liao still finds time to serve the community, treating each care recipient like family. Photo/Lulu Yin
Daisy Liao, her mom, and her younger sister all volunteer together during a holiday, serving at a Tzu Chi USA aid event. Photo/Lulu Yin

Lulu Yin also did her part at the distribution, helping make sure everything ran smoothly, attending to care recipients with genuine warmth, and later reporting this story and taking all the photos it contains to share with our readers. Lulu, and all the others on the team, were grateful to be of service. No matter the size of the disaster or how many are affected, Tzu Chi volunteers will always strive to provide immediate assistance when needed.

Tzu Chi volunteers have always been engaged in emergency relief work with sincerity and affection.

Volunteers escort a care recipient using a cane to a taxi after she receives disaster relief from Tzu Chi USA’s San Francisco branch, Photo/Lulu Yin

On this day in San Francisco, volunteers offered urgent aid to 32 households displaced by an apartment building fire in the Tenderloin neighborhood. They provided cash cards, noodles, and Jing Si Instant Rice, hoping to bring a little peace of mind to those affected as they recover from this disaster’s upheaval.

Only with a loving heart can there be blessings in life. Only with acts of generosity can there be gains in life.

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