Backpacks Brimming With Love

Northeast  |  September 16, 2022
Volunteers help students gear up for a new year with backpacks full of pandemic prevention items and academic supplies. Photo/Fengyuan Lin

Written by: Chunlan Xu
Translated by: H.B. Qin
Edited by: Maggie Morgan

August signifies that summer is coming to a close, and children must begin preparing for a whole new year at school. To make the first day a little easier and a lot more fun, Tzu Chi Cerritos Service Center held a “Happy Back to School Day” event for low-income families from Huntington Park and Bell City. Volunteers excitedly distributed back-to-school supplies to a total of 77 children. The star of the show was new backpacks filled to the brim with stationery and pandemic prevention gear.

One Big, Happy Family

Miles Ave Elementary School Principal Diane Espino (right) thanked Tzu Chi for providing a sense of belonging and trust. Photo/ Fengyuan Lin
Students and parents line up in sections and are led by volunteers into the rooms to for the collection procedure. Photo/ Fengyuan Lin

The August 6, 2022 event was kicked off with connection. Volunteers opened with a 30-minute ceremony to give students, parents, community members, and school officials a chance to catch up post-pandemic and learn more about Tzu Chi.

Tzu Chi volunteers jumped at the opportunity to interact with students and teachers before the distribution to make us feel loved. When one is at a low point in life, this is the most important feeling.

At Miles Ave Elementary School, where Principal Diane Espino serves, there are more than 850 students. A whopping 50% of the academic population regularly checks the school’s website or calls the school office each month. Thankfully their attention to detail and updated information came in handy; parents were able to learn about Happy Back to School Day through the website.

During the pandemic, Tzu Chi volunteers continued with relief in any way possible. Team members distributed food and pandemic prevention supplies to families in need every month. “We know that we are supported and cared for when we needed it most,” Diane said, “Tzu Chi not only builds this sense of trust among the community and families, but our students feel it as well. We know that Tzu Chi is there when we need it, and that’s a reassuring feeling.”

Diane said she hopes that Tzu Chi knows how cherished this partnership is to Huntington Park and its families; it has brought them together as a unified community of love.

A Backpack Full of Love

It was a joy to see 51 families bring their 77 students to Miles Avenue Elementary School that August day. In addition to essential supplies, a $50 cash card was tucked tightly into the backpacks. Students were able to grab gear that fit them just right, with three sizes of backpacks sorted in categories: kindergarten to second grade, third to fifth grade, and junior and senior high school. 

Even more surprises were in store for the students inside their new backpacks. Yes there were school supplies, yes there were safety items, and yes there was the cash card, but the addition of Tzu Chi charms, and literature brought a hint of extra love and compassion.

Student Edwin Negrete was grateful to receive this gift, and he said it would be a big help for him as he starts high school. He was introduced to Tzu Chi for the first time through a film shown at the event and said, “They (the volunteers) are very kind and I am very grateful to receive the backpack. Tzu Chi is a good organization that helps people all over the world.

Student parent Shantrell Iturner has three children, two in elementary school and one in middle school. Tzu Chi’s help has been very meaningful to her family. She said, “It’s a big help for me that my children can get these school supplies, and I don’t have to spend money on them anymore.

The Hearts and Hands of Volunteers

It was too heavy. The volunteers who were busy transporting the backpacks had to find a place to rest their hands for a while. Photo/ Fengyuan Lin
Yiru Zeng (left) told children stories at the toddlers’ area. Photo/ Fengyuan Lin

For five years, Tzu Chi Cerritos Service Center volunteers have been distributing fruit, vegetables, and food to low-income families in Huntington Park. They understand that many of the residents in this area need extra support, and have to work several jobs to take care of their families. Even with their busy schedules, there are more and more residents and parents joining the Tzu Chi volunteer force; they are touched and committed to helping with distributions, and some mothers even bring their children along to volunteer.

They are all imbued with the love of Tzu Chi volunteers and understand that, so long as everyone makes a small change and gives more care to their friends and neighborhoods around them, the community will make a huge difference.

During the pandemic, Tzu Chi volunteers motivated parents and students from Gage Middle School and Miles Avenue Elementary School to join in serving the community. The new team members by helped to deliver household supplies, food, and personal hygiene items to families in need.

Leslie Andrade, a new volunteer at the Service Center, first learned about Tzu Chi when she and her mother came to pick up food. She signed up to volunteer online and helped with the regular Tzu Chi distribution for the first time this past July; today is her second time serving in the community. She said, “I’m very happy to be able to serve the community with everyone and make society better. Today, I also got to know Tzu Chi better through Tzu Chi’s video, and I was very touched by everything they did,” she said.

Zeng Yiru, a member of the Tzu Chi Youth Association (Tzu Shao) has been participating in Tzu Chi since 2016 with his brother. They have been taking every opportunity to serve, finding the joy that comes from helping others. He said very firmly, “Even if I go to college in the future, I will continue to participate in Tzu Chi’s activities and continue to serve the community.”

Tzu Shao Yixuan Lin helped to take care of the residents’ children, leading them with drawing and origami. Photo/ Fengyuan Lin

About a year ago, Yixuan Lin joined Tzu Chi Youth Association. Today, her job is to accompany the children to draw pictures and do origami. In order to allow residents and parents who brought their children to the event to attend the opening ceremony with peace of mind, a toddler area was put outside the dining area. A volunteer was responsible for taking care of the children with and guiding them in drawing, crafts, and story-telling; children who performed well would receive rewards. 

Yixuan Lin said, “These children are adorable, I’ve had so much fun interacting with them. I will participate in community service more often in the future.”

The distribution was prepared to help 89 children from 61 families, but some missed the event due to work or a lack of transportation. This didn’t matter to volunteers, and they made sure to reserve supplies for these families. On August 27, at the community fruit and vegetable distribution, the rest of the students and parents received their backpacks. This was the cherry-on-top of a loving Sundae. No matter the obstacle, no matter the challenge, Tzu Chi will always find a work around fueled by compassion and innovation.

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