Written by Ivy Wong
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Maggie Morgan
The year 2022 marked the 12th anniversary of the Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region Food Pantry. The distribution the center has been providing food and supplies to low-income residents every week for over a decade, and it was definitely an occasion worth celebrating. The pandemic, dragging on for more than two years, presented several obstacles but the Food Pantry never quit; without hesitation, volunteers continued giving their love to the community every single Friday.
A High Demand Met With a Loving Supply
The 12th-anniversary event coincided with Labor Day, but that didn’t stop close to 30 volunteers from participating. In total, the team was able to reach families from 248 households, giving them essential resources to live happier and healthier life.
The United States’ recent inflation, combined with little improvement in the unemployment crisis, has added to the burden of families who are already living in hardship. In order to meet the high demand, the Mid-Atlantic Region volunteers had to use large cargo trucks to bring supplies to the distribution sites. The number of people in need of food has increased significantly and volunteers worked tirelessly to make sure everyone had access to essential resources.
Though they had their work cut out for them, volunteers were optimistic and determined to give all they could. One volunteer said, “During the pandemic, we cannot go to the gym, but the service is the best exercise, you are healthier and in a happy mood!”
Not only did the number of recipients increase, but our team met a much younger and more diverse population at the event. Cindy Young, a young Hispanic woman, learned about the Tzu Chi Food Pantry from a friend and came with her mother to pick up supplies. Cindy said, “Because I was recently laid off, my family has to live on my husband’s income, so I am very grateful for Tzu Chi’s help, which has eased my difficult living situation.”
Another resident, Mark Schoenfeld, was moved by Tzu Chi’s kindness, saying, “My wife and I learned about Tzu Chi’s distribution about six years ago, and we were amazed at the number of people who came to pick up food. We are very touched by the good deeds that Tzu Chi has done, and it warms our hearts to see one culture giving to another without asking for anything in return.”
A resident with limited mobility who is a regular visitor of the Food Pantry, said, “I come to this food distribution often, it’s not convenient for me to come in a wheelchair, but I come at least once a month. I appreciate what you guys do, it helps a lot of people in difficult life situations!”
Volunteer Linghua Chen has been following the Food Pantry for a long time. Seeing the scene in front of her, she felt compassion for those impacted by today’s economic climate. “In the process of serving, I came into contact with care recipients of different nationalities and saw the beings in the dark corners.”
Over a Decade of Dedication
Over the past twelve years, Tzu Chi’s Mid-Atlantic volunteers have proven time and time again that they’ll stop at nothing to help others. From senior volunteers who have been faithful followers to teenage team members who are new to Tzu Chi, the relay of love is never-ending and the Tzu Chi volunteer team continues to grow.
The Food Pantry’s Executive Director, Cijin Zhang, reflected on the past with great emotion. She said, “Twelve years is a long time, my hair has turned grey and I have changed from being young and vigorous to old and weak, but now I am vigorous again. With so many volunteers and community members coming together to help, my ‘old’ mentality has been revitalized.”
The Food Pantry is like a child to Tzu Chi volunteers, who have watered it with love and attention to make it what it is today. Team members have consciously curated the Food Pantry’s growth; teams have brought it from indoor service to outdoor service, from one line of service to two, and all the while became a family.
Xing Liu, a senior volunteer who is over 70 years old, was hospitalized for a heart problem in 2015. Like the rest of his team, Xing Liu wouldn’t give up, and he returned to volunteer very soon after he recovered. Xing Liu never misses the preparation and distribution of the Food Pantry, and according to him, “The more you do good, the healthier you are, and as long as you can help others feel happy, it’s good for your health, too”.
Cipei Xu, who is about to retire from volunteering, is happy to have participated more in the distribution activities. She said, “No matter how your hair turns gray or your body ages, no matter how the seasons change, you can comfort these people with love. Don’t complain, just do it!”
Bringing in a Boost of New Energy
It’s the team’s never-give-up attitude that continues to inspire and attract new members. During the summer vacation, a group of Tzu Shao and young community volunteers joined the Food Pantry to experience the joy of giving. Residents of the neighboring elderly apartments also pitched in to help and see what Tzu Chi was all about.
Volunteer Lihong Wang was very happy to see the team expanding. She said, “We are thankful for the young people who came to help during the hot summer vacation, and we hope that those who want to do something meaningful can join us. We wish the Food Pantry a happy 12th anniversary and a happy world to all!”
Tzu Shao Xinting Xie, who came to help, said, “I feel that by coming to the Food Pantry to help distribute food, I can get to know more people and receive a small compliment while helping others. I think it’s worth it even if that person may only be happy for a short day.”
Tzu Shao Zongjun Xie said, “I am happy to help others to make them happy, and it is fun to learn about their stories at the same time.”
Volunteer Huijing Liu, a psychological counselor who takes the bus from New York every Friday to participate, said, “Through this event, I heard the voices of the underprivileged and sympathized with their need for food assistance due to various factors, which made me more empathetic to their suffering and hoped that they can get out of their economic struggles and return to a normal life.”
Being There in the Best Way Possible
After looking back at the event, the volunteers said they are planning to optimize the distribution process by improving efficiency, The more streamlined things are, the more people Tzu Chi can help in the future.
Volunteer Weiguo Qu said, “With so many people in need of supplies, we hope to streamline the process and make it easier for the care recipients to receive food quicker. I hope to have more time to interact with them.”
Mid-Atlantic Region Executive Director Cijin Zhang further said that plans are underway to take advantage of technology to boost performance. The team plans on replacing signatures with barcode scanners. This upgrade not only saves time for volunteers’ distribution and recipients’ waiting periods, but it minimizes the inconvenience of the winter cold and summer heat.
The day marked a momentous occasion; Everyone’s collective memories reflected years of hard work to achieve the virtue of the Food Pantry. We all cherish the opportunity to give, and while we are celebrating with gratitude for today, we also pray for safety and peace in the world for tomorrow.