Out of the Haze of Wildfire, Tzu Chi Northwest Celebrates a Community in Recovery

Northwest  |  December 27, 2022
Patti Tucker, a survivor, came to the celebration with her grandson. She warmly greeted everyone in the beautiful holiday atmosphere. Photo/CM Yung

Written by Nancy Ku
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley

Camp Fire, the worst wildfire disaster in California history, claimed more than 80 lives in 2018. Four years later, on December 10th, 2022, Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers returned to the site. This time, however, it was not for a disaster. Instead, they celebrated a reunion in Magalia, a small town near Paradise. Although the day was stormy, with the low temperature hitting zero degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit), Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers brought love and compassion.

During what is considered the time of year for traditional American family gatherings, Tzu Chi volunteers celebrated with the wildfire survivors and the residents in the Magalia community, recalling the ups and downs experienced by everyone. They lamented the devastating disaster and cherished the second chance at life. On that day, everyone gathered to talk about the past and the present with tears and joy, which made this reunion all the more meaningful. 

A total of 209 guests, plus 40 volunteers, gathered at Magalia Community Church to enjoy a lunch prepared by volunteers and a performance by Tzu Chi youth volunteers from Sacramento and community artists. The mood was festive and jovial.  

After the performance, everyone prayed and sang “Love and Care” together, praying and wishing everyone a smooth return to everyday life. Before the end of the activity, Tzu Chi volunteers distributed gift bags containing blankets, scarves, handmade soap, four-language Jing Si aphorisms, lotus ornaments, and bamboo banks to the survivors and villagers in the community, giving them full blessings.

Survivors gathered in Magalia Community Church to share love after the disaster. Photo/CM Yung
Tzu Chi volunteers enthusiastically gave holiday gifts prepared in advance to local survivors. Photo/ CM Yung

Old Friends Reunite With Sincerity and Love

When residents entered the Magalia Community Church, Tzu Chi volunteers from all over Northern California greeted them and led them to register and receive their distribution number. In addition, every resident received hot food prepared by volunteers in the kitchen early in the morning. Baba Kauna Mujamal, the MC, was funny and enthusiastic, and with the Christmas decorations in the church, everyone instantly felt full of a warm festive atmosphere.

In addition to distributing festive gift bags and blankets, volunteers also prepared performances for residents. Richard Yale, the pastor of the church, said in his opening speech that Tzu Chi USA would be their friend forever. This gesture of love across religions was a touching display. 

Volunteer Minjhing Hsieh of San Jose, who was also the promoter and chief coordinator of the event, sent the love and blessings of Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi volunteers to the residents. He said, “Even though it was windy and rainy outside, this love and care will warm each other’s hearts in the cold winter.”

Sacramento Tzu Chi youth volunteers, full of Tzu Chi’s spirit of compassion and love, were energetic participants in this distribution. They ushered the residents to their tables, packed materials, arranged distribution routes, and respectfully handed gift bags and blankets. On the same day, they also performed “Pure Land on Earth” for residents on the stage. Their energetic interpretation won warm applause from the residents.

The day’s program also included performances by well-known musicians in the community. Their music was soothing, beautiful, and inspirational, and the afternoon was spent with laughter, music, and applause all over the room, inspiring everyone. After many years of ups and downs, the feeling was tomorrow would be better.

Tzu Chi youth volunteers presented their festival performances on stage for everyone. Photo/ CM Yung
Musicians performed beautifully for the crowd. Photo/ CM Yung

Young Hearts Full of Positive Energy

Stormy rain clouds greeted the celebration and distribution morning. However, the church was full of warmth, and distribution preparations began in an orderly manner. Jiahe Huang, the leader of Tzu Chi youth volunteers from the Sacramento Service Center, first announced the division of labor to the youth volunteers and then gave a detailed explanation and clear demonstration. After the explanation and demonstration, Tzu Chi youth volunteers immediately put themselves to work.

Tzu Chi youth volunteers played a leading role in the day’s event. They ensured that the packaging work was orderly. With the cooperation of Tzu Chi youth volunteers and the assistance of parents, they completed the project after over an hour’s hard work.

At 2:00 pm, Steven Huang gathered the Tzu Chi youth volunteers for a detailed division of labor and explanation before the distribution to ensure a smooth distribution process. Nancy Ku, a Tzu Chi youth volunteer counselor, accompanied him and provided guidance. When everything was ready, the guests lined up to enter the supplies distribution area as arranged by the host. When residents received the supplies, they couldn’t restrain their inner feelings.

Tzu Chi’s seeds are sprouting and growing in the hearts of Tzu Chi youth volunteers. Through this event, they learned that charity makes Tzu Chi’s love shine in even the planet’s darkest corners.

After the event, three generations of volunteers took a group photo together to share in the joy. Photo/CM Yung

Embrace the Future With Gratitude and Bravery

Most families who came to the event that day were survivors of the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise City. The Camp Fire burned Paradise City to ashes, unhousing residents. As the reconstruction was indefinite, many families moved away. Many guests were very excited to recognize Tzu Chi volunteers. One said, “I am so happy to see Tzu Chi volunteers here. When I went to the emergency rescue center in Chico City after the fire, I lost everything, and my house was completely destroyed. You embraced me to know I was not alone. “

Rosemary Poshard, who lived in Paradise Town for twenty years, moved to Ohio after losing her home to Camp Fire. She participated in the event with gratitude and excitement. She brought a box of chocolates to share and donated a check to Tzu Chi USA.

Poshard said, “Tzu Chi’s kindness touched me. After the fire, I lived in emergency housing with a group of people I didn’t know. I didn’t have money. It was a terrifying moment, and I was grateful for your company. (At that time) I didn’t even know who you were, but I was grateful, not because of your money, but because I knew that you cared about this community, so even if the weather was bad today, I wanted to give back and spread my love. Thank you very much!”

As she spoke, she had tears in her eyes. She said, “You don’t know how much you meant to us in our situation. You represent the beauty of this world. Thank you again!” 

Patti Tucker, who originally lived in Paradise City, had to separate from her large family because of the wildfire. She met Tzu Chi at the Chico Recovery Center in Chico City. When Tucker visited her daughter in Magalia that day, she brought her two grandsons to attend. Tucker said, “I have a heartfelt gratitude to express. This gratitude has always been there. It means a lot to me to pray with everyone and hear each other’s greetings and whether everyone is good.”

Local retired social worker Marlene Woodard also attended. She helped many survivors during and after the Camp Fire and understood their suffering. She felt today’s activity was significant to these traumatized families.

Your care made the survivors feel good. Thank you very much for your from afar. Thank you very much.

Kimberley O’Miela, who formally owned a beauty salon in Paradise, was depressed and overwhelmed by the loss of her home due to the fire. But, inspired by Tzu Chi volunteers, she began volunteering at her church, cooking food and helping distribute food to needy families, and gained confidence and joy. Talking about her experience as a volunteer, she happily shared, “It was great to help people get food and to interact with them.” 

The event attracted people of all ages, not only adults but also children. A little girl, Alisha Palewoer, came with her mother. She and her mother do not speak fluent English, but participating in the event made them happy. She was shy but shouted, “It’s fun!”

After the event, the rain and wind suddenly subsided, like a sign from the heavens that generated sunshine and hope. Once, the devastating Camp Fire mercilessly took away many lives and homes; the survivors braved four years of hardship because of their persistence and the love of the Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers. Now that the gloom has passed, everyone’s heart is ready to start again and embrace the future. Tzu Chi wishes everyone peace and good health.

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