Written by: Fong Zhou Zhang
Translated by: H.B. Qin
Edited by: Patrick McShane
Just before the start of the holiday season, the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States was hit by an extreme winter storm. On December 19th, 2022, exceptionally low temperatures and cold winter weather were seen across the region. Tzu Chi volunteers in Cherry Hill, New Jersey braved the biting wind to provide hot food and winter supplies to unhoused people sheltered at the Camden Cathedral Kitchen which is located in an economically deprived area suffering from high crime rates. This is an annual tradition for the volunteers, and the cold weather was not going to stop them from helping those in need.
The Cold Wind Can't Stop Love
Though the pandemic is no longer affecting society as it once did, many people are still apprehensive about its ill effects and more are suffering from the economic hardships that accompanied the lockdowns. Compounding these lingering problems, this winter has been particularly cold, posing a great challenge for volunteers who serve the unhoused.
The temperature on the day of the event was about 3 degrees Celsius, 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind was biting. Even if someone was dressed warmly, they would still feel the sting of the cold wind. Fortunately, the hot food center, which has been operating out of a temporary shelter in an outdoor parking lot for the past two years, now added a tin shed with a gas heater to protect people from the winter weather. Despite the warmth the heater puts out, the front and rear doors of the shed must remain open for ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, which allowed a pervasive draft of cold air to sneak in.
Tzu Chi volunteers who were at the site for the distribution event were thankful to have a tin shed to shield them from the biting cold wind. The hot food center also arranged for volunteers from other charitable organizations to distribute bread and pastries at three other tables. Ever since the hot food center resumed dine-in service, it has been serving vegetarian food that’s in line with Tzu Chi’s life-affirming philosophy.
The volunteers focused on giving out warming items, with each distribution bag containing small eco-friendly blankets, scarves, woolen hats, gloves, socks, and undershirts, among other useful items. Tzu Chi’s distribution team consisted of nine volunteers, each of whom was grateful for the opportunity to care for those in need. The hot food center gave each aid recipient a numbered card and instructed them not to forget to visit the tin shed in the parking lot to collect winter supplies from Tzu Chi using their cards after eating their delicious vegetarian meals.
Winter Supplies and Blessings Were Given Out With Both Hands
When everything was ready, the hot food center opened on time and those who had been waiting outside went through the entrance one after another to get their meals. Soon after, led by several volunteers, the unhoused people who had eaten their meals went to the parking lot and received their winter supplies in an orderly manner. With respect and gratitude, the Tzu Chi volunteers presented the gift bags with both hands and offered their most sincere holiday wishes. The aid recipients smiled gratefully, thankful for the love the Tzu Chi volunteers showed. Each person thanked the volunteers again and again and exchanged hopeful holiday wishes.
One of the aid recipients even asked the hot food center and Tzu Chi volunteers to take a photo with him.
Despite the wind and temperature, the distribution was successfully concluded and many in need were served. 231 distribution bags prepared by the Mid-Atlantic Region volunteers were distributed. In addition to the eco-blankets handed out by Tzu Chi, 66 blankets were provided by the hot food center, for a total of 297 blankets distributed on-site that day. All volunteers hoped that the winter supplies would help those in need survive the frigid conditions, and find some comfort during the holiday season.
Helping those in need has a deep significance. Not only does the act of giving help to the vulnerable, but through giving the volunteers can express Tzu Chi’s love which is without size and is beyond nationality, ethnicity, or creed, merely looking to serve humanity without asking for anything in return. Through giving we can help alleviate the suffering of others and bring love and blessings into a disadvantaged corner of the world.