Written by Ting Fan, Marley Maitland, Yue Ma, & Hannah Whisenant
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
On December 21, 2021, Tzu Chi volunteers had divided into two teams. One team stayed in Mayfield, Kentucky, for the next day’s large-scale distribution, and the other traveled to Bowling Green, another hard-hit area, to meet with Mayor Todd Alcott. The way to the city formed a straight road with little shade on either side, the horizon seeming empty. The storm had destroyed many residences along the route.
A Community on a Journey for Recovery
Rob Valdivieso, a tornado survivor and Tzu Chi care recipient, told volunteers that he would never forget the experiences of that day. He described the sound of the tornado-like the roar of a monster, and the force of its impact like a train losing control.
The December 2021 tornadoes cause severe damage in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Photo/Yue Ma
“When we received the tornado warning, we didn’t know it would hit us so hard. After we came back to confirm the situation, we found that in just a few hours, our whole community was torn in half from north to south.” The tornado had dissipated a week prior, and Mayor Alcott could recall the details clearly. “You know what? Although we were hit hard, we didn’t collapse,” he said with emotion, and it was a strength of spirit echoed by many others at the distribution.
Chong Hsieh, the Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Midwest Region, led the disaster assessment team and described the goal of the meeting with Mayor Alcott. “There are 850 completely or partially destroyed households in Warren County,” said Chong Hsieh. “We hope to return here on December 24 for a distribution. Our founder, Master Cheng Yen in Taiwan, is very concerned about the disaster areas. She requested that we give the disaster relief money directly to the affected residents, and it should be done before Christmas. She instructed us that $1,000 should be distributed to each family.”
Mayor Alcott was stunned by the offer of emergency support — and with no strings attached. The care meant that survivors could buy food, pay for hotels, and be temporarily relieved financially during this difficult time. It also assured that survivors know their Tzu Chi family is here for them on this journey for recovery.
Mayor Alcott listened to the volunteers with an open heart, and when volunteers explained the concept behind the bamboo bank, he immediately placed his change within. “I’m happy because I know the significance of the materials to be distributed. We are very grateful for the gifts you brought. From the [volunteers] I met, I learned that you will continue to care for people in need in the community, and we deeply appreciate this.”
Mindfulness and Mutual Care
In the early morning on Christmas Eve, 40 volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s Midwest Region drove from their hotel to Bowling Green. A few hours prior, this group of volunteers had finished two large-scale distributions and cleaned up at the distribution site in Mayfield. Even though they were a little tired, they’d gathered their energy in the car, so they could be in high spirits when they arrived, and pass that positive energy on at the distribution.
More than 40 Tzu Chi Midwest volunteers commit their time and efforts toward carrying out the disaster relief event on Christmas Eve. Photo/Lin Junzhi
“When I opened my eyes and looked around, the roof was gone, everything was gone; the house was gone, everything was destroyed.” Ahmad Hadi, a survivor, and Tzu Chi care recipient, came to the distribution site at the Disaster Recovery Center with crutches. Ahmad is a refugee from Afghanistan, his family having fled their home amid the conflict in search of safety. Their home was one of many struck by the recent tornado.
Many people were injured in the storm. Photo/Yue Ma
Volunteers at the distribution offered their love and care with a listening ear as survivors shared their stories. They listened to a mother who was holding her son in the face of the tornado. When the roof collapsed, she lost her son, and experienced injuries to her face and body. Another family of 12 lost six members to the violent storm. Among the survivors is their 24-year-old daughter, whose injuries also caused paralysis in both of her legs.
Moved by the support of volunteers, Mayor Todd Alcott personally presented Tzu Chi volunteers with a key to the city with his heartfelt thanks.