Tzu Chi Community Volunteers Gladly Serve at Food Distributions

Northeast  |  December 13, 2021
From June 2020, the Manhattan Service Center holds fruit and vegetable distributions twice a month on Saturday mornings. Photo/Hsiuchun Wong

Written by Daphne Liu
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region volunteers have regularly provided distributions of fruit and vegetables to the community near the Family Service Center in Chinatown, Manhattan, New York, and the Boston Service Center. These charity programs attract many community volunteers who want to do their part.

With Hearts Eager to Pay Back In Manhattan

Rosanna Pang is a second-generation Chinese American who grew up in New York’s Chinatown. As the United States has been getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control and her life could get back on track, she set out to do her part for those in need in her community. Once every two weeks, Rosanna and a group of Asian colleagues have been helping out at Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region Manhattan Service Center’s food distributions. 

Reflecting on the fact that one-eighth of the population in the U.S. has to face the challenge of hunger since the pandemic, Rosanna gets quite emotional: “Chinatown is a community that I’ve known since I was a child, I grew up here. I’ve gained so much, and I’m more than happy to pay back, as long as I have the opportunity.”

Rosanna Pang (second left) and her colleagues have become a regular team volunteering at Tzu Chi’s fruit and vegetable distributions in Manhattan. Photo/Hsiuchun Wong

Rosanna and her colleagues work for a large American chain restaurant. Many of them are front-line service staff for whom weekends are often busier than usual. Stephen Chan is also a second-generation Chinese American. To participate in Tzu Chi’s distribution of fruit and vegetables on a Saturday morning, he must alter his regular working hours or dedicate his time off, yet he’s grateful he can.

To participate in Tzu Chi’s food distributions, Stephen Chan sacrifices time off or reschedules his working hours, hoping to serve Chinese seniors in his community. Photo/Hsiuchun Wong

Stephen knows all too well that the catering sector was hit hard by the pandemic, and he feels lucky to have a stable job. Aware that the elderly have difficulties shopping for groceries during these challenging times, he rolls up his sleeves to personally give out 300 portions of nutritious fruit and vegetables every two weeks. 

He shared that although he only contributes a little of his time, the important thing is that this brings smiles to seniors, which is why he keeps coming back to help out. 

I've participated in some other food distribution activities. Tzu Chi provides more fresh fruit and vegetables, which are of good quality and variety. They are very suitable for Chinese elders. They can get all the necessary food in one trip, which is very convenient.

More and more young community volunteers participate in Tzu Chi’s distributions of fruit and vegetables in Manhattan. Photo/Hsiuchun Wong

Li Hsin Liu, the daughter of Tzu Chi volunteer Ming Chu Huang, invited several enthusiastic young people to help out at the Manhattan Service Center’s distributions. Li Hsin was born in Argentina and came to the United States at the age of three. She attended Tzu Chi’s Chinese classes for ten years, hence is no stranger to the world of this organization. “I’m happy to participate in Tzu Chi’s fruit and vegetable distributions because I like paying society back,” she shares.

Li Hsin learned about the opportunity to distribute fresh produce from her mother, a Tzu Chi volunteer, and now passionately invites her colleagues to participate. Photo/Hsiuchun Wong

Li Hsin has been participating in Tzu Chi activities since she was a child. She feels happy doing community service, so she invited her friends to participate in the Manhattan Service Center’s fresh produce distributions. She didn’t expect that five or six colleagues would participate on every occasion in the past two months, and it continues.

Edna Xie, an amateur volleyball player, regularly volunteers at the distributions, devoted to serving others. Photo/Hsiuchun Wong

Every Tzu Chi community volunteer serving at the food distributions in Manhattan has their own story and reason for participating. Ta Wen Kuo and Hung Hwei Hwang, for instance.  

Hung is a devout Buddhist passionate about helping others, although he too has struggled during the pandemic being unable to work. After someone invited him to help out, he was glad to join, saying that while what he could contribute was little, he was grateful for the opportunity to make positive karmic connections with others. 

Ta Wen is unable to work due to an injury a few years ago. Yet wherever he sees that an extra hand is needed, he will immediately offer to help.

Hung Hwei Hwang (left) and Ta Wen Kuo (right) are grateful for the opportunity to help those in need in their community. Photo/Hsiuchun Wong

Community Volunteers in Boston Are Equally Happy to Serve

A group of young professionals has joined Tzu Chi’s food distributions in Boston, happy to spend Saturday in community service. Photo/Ching Chia Ning

In Boston, young community volunteers have also joined Tzu Chi’s food distribution and delivery services. Because of the pandemic, children have had to attend online classes at home, and one of their parents, therefore, had to stay home to take care of them, thus reducing their household’s work income. 

Ming Chen Wu, the principal of Baldwin Early Learning Pilot Academy, contacted Tzu Chi Boston volunteers about launching distributions of food to families economically affected by the pandemic, beginning from the September 2020 semester. On the one hand, this food aid would help compensate for the parents’ reduced income, and on the other, it would provide children with more balanced nutrition.

Ming Chen Wu (right), Baldwin Early Learning Pilot Academy Principal, helps out at food distributions in February, alongside Rose Saia (left), the head of the community food bank. Photo/Ching Chia Ning
Boxes of supplies prepared by food bank personnel (first two on right) await transport to Tzu Chi’s Boston Service Center. Photo/Ching Chia Ning

The third Saturday of each month is the Tzu Chi Boston Service Center’s scheduled food aid delivery day. At the beginning of 2021, Tzu Chi volunteers applied for supplies from local food banks to diversify the source of food for community distribution. 

At 9: 00 AM, nearly ten volunteers will receive over 500 pounds of a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, dry food, dairy products, frozen foods, rice, and grains from food banks in the Boston area.

The variety of food supplies, chosen to offer balanced nutrition for schoolchildren, is ready for portioning. Photo/Ching Chia Ning

Yu Jou Wang, an international doctoral student from Taiwan, enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), began to assist in repackaging and delivering the food supplies early this year, then brought friends to join in. The process of repackaging food is essentially  like buying food for yourself. First, check if the food is fresh, then put it in a shopping bag. Love yourself and love others, with empathy.

I like the feeling of [working together]. When we deliver food packages, and the recipient families thank us, we feel really touched at that moment.

Yu Jou Wang (left) brought his friend Li Wanhong (middle) to participate in food distribution. Photo/Ching Chia Ning
Tzu Chi community volunteer Ching Ying Hsiao (right) and I Hsüan Lin (left) repack the food by portions per family. Photo/Ching Chia Ning

Once the first group of volunteers has repackaged and portioned the food, the second group gathers at the Boston Service Center near noon and takes on the job of delivery. Volunteers Ching Hui Hsiao and Ching Chia Ning allocate the delivery routes. Each time there are at least four groups of volunteers distributing to more than 20 families, including Tzu Chi’s long-term charity care cases.

Engaged couple Jason Macneil and Shih Ting Kao are familiar faces among the delivery volunteers, impressed by Tzu Chi’s mobilization and organization capacity. Jason, a computer engineer at MIT, is no stranger to Tzu Chi’s charity activities because his fiancée is from a Tzu Chi family. He’s also aware of the urgent necessity of distributing food since some of his relatives and friends lost employment due to the pandemic. He’s grateful for the opportunity to make a difference by investing himself in Tzu Chi’s community service.

I’ve joined some church organizations and participated in similar food distributions, but none of them are as well-organized as Tzu Chi. I’m proud to volunteer with Tzu Chi.

Jason Macneil and Shih Ting Kao assist in recycling cartons after delivering food to care recipients. Photo/Ching Chia Ning

I Hsüan Lin, also a computer engineer, was once a Tzu Chi Collegiate Association member. Since the pandemic, Tzu Chi Boston volunteers invited him to join the delivery team. He was happy to participate, sharing that, “If we can make families in need have a better diet and improve their quality of life to make their life smoother, this job is worth doing.” I Hsüan feels moved when care recipients come out to greet and thank him when he delivers the food aid. It reaffirms how vital this community service is, thankful he can lend a hand.

What drives all the community volunteers who have been joining Tzu Chi USA’s food distributions in New York and Boston is “heart.” As written on the wall of a food bank, perhaps this summarizes their service and motivation best: “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; They have the heart.”

I Hsüan Lin and a care recipient share a moment of connection when he delivers Tzu Chi’s food aid bag. Photo/Ching Chia Ning
The message on a wall at a food bank inspires all volunteers equally. Photo/Ching Chia Ning

If you’d like to volunteer in your local area, Tzu Chi volunteers will welcome your participation! To do so, please register here.

If you’d rather support Tzu Chi’s work nationwide through a donation, you will equally become our partner in the field! In either case, with love as our motivation, we can move mountains to bring help to those in need.

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