Written by Christina Chang
Edited by Andrea Barkley
A car slowly crawled upward in narrow valley basins. On one side of the vehicle were crown lifted trees, and on the other was a deep valley facing the cliff. After traversing from one hill to another hill, the small trailer home of Jacob, a victim of the Santa Cruz Fire at the deep mountainous “Last Chance” community, appeared in front. Tzu Chi volunteers from Silicon Valley came to the location to care for those in need.
Tzu Chi volunteers set off from Silicon Valley for an hour’s drive to the “Last Chance” community. Wildfires severely hit the community in the summer of 2020. In addition to visiting individual families in groups, Tzu Chi USA volunteers also participated in the monthly community meeting with residents starting at 11:00 a.m. that day. During the session, Tzu Chi USA volunteers held a container home donation ceremony for community residents. They placed two 40-foot container homes on the grass area in the community center to store safety equipment. This act provided a solid safety net for the community’s post-disaster reconstruction, disaster prevention, and other work.
Fourteen Tzu Chi volunteers from Northern California’s Silicon Valley came to the Last Chance community severely hit by wildfires in the summer of 2020 to participate in community reconstruction meeting. Photo/ Wen Chu
On the morning of Sunday, October 2, 2022, The CEO of Tzu Chi Northwest Region, Minjhing Hsieh, who represented Tzu Chi volunteers, presented the carefully prepared container home model. To community residents, Minjhing decorated the home with the English word “love,” formed by Chinese “love” character pendants. Minjhing said emotionally, “Unfortunately, everyone suffered from the fire two years ago; but fortunately, this fire connected us into a family-like bond.”
Minjhing hoped donating the two container homes could help the community store critical safety equipment. But, the CEO concluded, “more importantly, it will store our love, and the container home is guarded by a roof woven in the shape of love.”
The gift of love touched grateful victims
Silicon Valley Tzu Chi volunteers convened a crowd in the Silicon Valley community the day before and packed and prepared gift bags for community residents as part of the donation ceremony. Inside the gift bags with a dangling love charm was a book of JingSi aphorisms in four languages, Tzu Chi Monthly, Bamboo Bank, and a bag of cleaning supplies.
Tzu Chi volunteers prepared gift bags of love as companions and blessings in life for victims of the mountain fire. Photo/ Wen Chu
For the past two years, Susie Devergranne has served as a bridge between residents in communities lacking communication equipment and Tzu Chi USA volunteers. At the beginning of the meeting, she said to all residents, “What Tzu Chi volunteers have done for us is more than ordinary financial assistance.”
For example, Susie asked Tzu Chi USA volunteer Chi-Jen Huang about the need for a second-hand container home. Tzu Chi USA volunteers insisted on bringing a new container because durability and safety are most important. Susie said that Tzu Chi volunteers participated in the meeting and expressed deep concerns about their daily lives.
Susie smiled and said, “Tzu Chi USA loves us.” After the meeting, Susie took the volunteers to see the car engine restoration funded by Tzu Chi USA. With a small vehicle that can traverse safely on the road, Susie can take on more sign language interpretation jobs in town. Tzu Chi USA volunteers provide the most requested needs of the community and the individual needs of residents. Each instance of help deeply moved Susie.
Resident Kirsten brought a pot of yellow flowers to Tzu Chi volunteers. She said, “We are grateful to Tzu Chi volunteers for donating the container home needed, which is very beneficial to our community. It’s vital to keep moving forward, especially when someone cares about us. The reconstruction progress will become smoother. Thank you very much.”
When Kirsten saw the Bamboo Bank in the gift bag, she took the initiative to give away the $100 she had to volunteers. Tzu Chi’s charitable cause encouraged her to give back the aid she received from all sectors of society.
Kirsten’s husband, George, was deeply moved as he came upon a meditative phrase, “Good actions require everyone’s cooperation, so let’s not cling to personal biases.” George has lived in the “Last Chance” community for 42 years.
After the wildfire had destroyed his home and taken everything away, George was amazed that there would be a support organization like Tzu Chi USA. At first, only three volunteers regularly attended monthly meetings and reached out to residents. George pointed to the thick socks on his feet and said, “I am very moved that they (Tzu Chi) are very concerned about our needs, donating blankets, socks, and various things. This kindness allows the victims who have lost everything to regain their lives.” The generosity of Tzu Chi USA volunteers touched George very much. He said, “I want to express my heartfelt gratitude for someone to come to us when needed and change things around.” George’s voice choked with tears. His eyes flickered with tears, and he could only pat his chest with his hands to express gratitude.
Timely Case Care For Residents’ Needs
After returning to the mountains after the disaster, Jacob lived in a small trailer with a satellite receiver outside to communicate externally to work from home. The tall man said, “I am a big man in a little trailer.” Recently, Jacob found a water leak above the bed behind the small trailer, so he sought Tzu Chi USA’s help to repair it. Although he had a job, he was still under financial pressure. Jacob said that it was not enough to rely on monthly paychecks to meet the needs of life and reconstruction. Of course, he was very grateful to have a salary income. However, the current currency Inflation had an impact on his life. The rent in Santa Cruz town was costly, so Jacob still chose to live in the mountain. He said, “After deducting the effect of loans and inflation, it is still more cost-effective than living in town and renting a house.”
Tzu Chi USA volunteer Chi-Jen Huang has continued to care for the residents since the wildfire disaster occurred more than two years ago. And Chi-Jen has convened more community volunteers to form a case care team that accompanied residents to face the challenges of life reconstruction. Chi-Jen Huang said, “This fire (Santa Cruz Mountain Fire) is in the place where our Tzu Chi USA volunteers in Silicon Valley live. We hope such an opportunity would bring the brothers and sisters of our community (Tzu Chi volunteers) to participate in the case.
Through community visits, more people will be motivated by the community.”
Currently, the “Last Chance” community families have at least three volunteers per household to care for regularly, whether through in-person visits or telephone contact, so that reconstruction can happen promptly.
After the meeting, all residents ate vegetarian sandwiches prepared by Tzu Chi USA volunteers, cakes and biscuits baked by themselves, and chatted about their current situation. A retired teacher had just visited Tzu Chi’s free dental clinic. A fire survivor couple needed gas stoves and solar panels. Under rays of warm autumn sunlight, everyone had bright smiles as they chatted casually with familiar Tzu Chi USA volunteers. All were sharing their sincere and hopeful blessings for the future.
After the container home donation ceremony, Tzu Chi volunteers and community residents had lunch together and chatted. Photo/ Wen Chu