Continual Care for Underprivileged Families in Santa Ana, California

National Headquarters  |  September 28, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteers take a group photo with Kaiser Permanente staff during a food and diaper distribution in Santa Ana, California, on August 11, 2022. Photo/Huiqing Su

Written by Qifen Lin, Gina Shih
Chinese edited by Chenglin Li
Translated by Ariel Chan
English edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

The Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters Region Orange County Service Center has regularly distributed fruits and vegetables to low-income families in Santa Ana. Beginning in June, the Orange County Food Bank additionally provided baby diapers. After obtaining approval from the principals of the three schools, volunteer Wanping Jian applied directly to the food bank for three stacks of diapers, one for each school. 

On August 11, 2022, Tzu Chi distributed nine pallets of fresh vegetables and fruits, three pallets of diapers, and two pallets of other items, a total of 14 pallets of supplies, to nearly 100 parents at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. Because volunteers could only provide diapers while supplies lasted, some parents queued up an hour and a half in the heat before the start of the distribution, which was heartbreaking to see.

The Orange County Food Bank provides baby diapers for Tzu Chi's distributions. Photo/Wanping Jian

May Love Like This Continue to Grow

This year has been difficult for economically disadvantaged families in Santa Ana. The pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic and rising prices have been doubly stressful in the city where the poverty rate is 19.5%, higher than across the state of California, and one out of every 5.1 residents lives below the poverty line. 

The Tzu Chi team from Irvine, ten miles away, regularly distributes fruits and vegetables in Santa Ana on the second Thursday of every month. On August 11, more than a dozen volunteers at the distribution site worked hard in the hot weather to give out the free supplies. Due to inflation, the cost of diapers for infants to 30-pound toddlers has been a heavy burden for many parents; thus, they were most enthusiastic about the distribution.

“Diapers are very expensive now,” said Tzu Chi volunteer Martin Kuo, “but fortunately, there are kindhearted people and government agencies who will donate them to us so that we can share the supplies with these families in need. If they receive assistance today, they may have the opportunity to give back to others in the future.” 

I hope they’ll bring their children every month so that they can feel the altruism and spirit of Tzu Chi. We're passing on this kind of love to these families so their children will continue to flourish.

Seeing the joyful smiles on everyone’s faces as they receive the goods is heartwarming. Photos/Wanping Jian

An Opportunity to Expand Service Provisions

Kaiser Permanente, a donor subsidizing fruits and vegetables for Tzu Chi’s distributions, sent Community Benefit Managers Sheri Bathurst and Cheryl Vergo to Abraham Lincoln Elementary School to observe the Tzu Chi USA Orange County Service Center’s event on August 11. During a presentation exchange, they were also there to discuss and explore mutual opportunities to address community mental health needs and to expand the range of future services.

Tzu Chi volunteer Wanping Jian outlines Tzu Chi's humanitarian missions to Kaiser Permanente staff. Photo/Huiqing Su

“We see that the need for food in the community is very high; it will only be higher in the current environment and will not go away,” Sheri Bathurst shared. “We also see another problem, which is mental health issues, which may be something Kaiser can do. I think one of the main contributions that Kaiser can offer is the grant program, where we fund organizations like yours,” she explained.

Because you have the foundation and the expertise, know how to do a good job, and know how to respond to the needs of the community, this (grant) is the best gift we can bring, especially since we don't have the foundation to penetrate the community, but you can quickly do it.

Sheri Bathurst, Community Benefit Manager at Kaiser Permanente, applauds Tzu Chi's work. Photo/Wei Jia Ning

For her part, Cheryl Vergo stated, “I’m very impressed with your free clinics for low-income households and keeping students healthy through food. This is hugely impressive, as everything you’ve done has been very helpful to their education. Many people in Orange County have difficulty obtaining healthy fresh food and basic necessities, and Tzu Chi is doing just that to fill those needs and keep families healthy.”

Kaiser Permanente’s Community Health Service Department has been donating fruits and vegetables to Tzu Chi since 2020. They subsidize costs for regional food distribution projects across Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, Orange County, and other regions. This support covers expenses, including the purchase of vegetables and fruits, acquisition and maintenance of trucks and refrigeration equipment, distribution of machinery and equipment, and distribution of consumables such as cartons so that the community has sufficient funds to improve the lives of underprivileged residents.

Tzu Chi volunteer Wanping Jian connects with Kaiser Permanente staff during the distribution. Photo/Wei Jia Ning

Free Food and Diapers Help Ease Family Expenditures

During the presentations that day, Tzu Chi volunteer Wanping Jian explained, “Because of inflation, food is very expensive, and diapers are also very expensive. The schools here are full of low-income families who need fresh fruits and vegetables to maintain health as well as diapers for children, but these are too expensive for them to buy. So, we distribute these across three schools every month.”

Abraham Lincoln Elementary School Principal Edna Velado addresses those attending the presentations in the school auditorium. Photo/Huiqing Su

Edna Velado, Principal of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, also spoke to all in attendance during the presentation exchange, championing the ongoing partnership with Tzu Chi. 

I’m very glad we’ve cooperated with our partner for 15 years. Tzu Chi continues to help our families in Santa Ana. We’re very grateful for our close collaboration with Tzu Chi, especially during the difficult period when the pandemic hit Santa Ana hard. We will distribute fruits, vegetables, and diapers. Thank you to the volunteers for their selfless dedication to help our families live a good life.

But finally, it was all about the families and how much the underprivileged communities in Santa Ana value such distributions. They came in a steady stream, mothers and fathers eager to pick up the free food and diapers. Many brought their children, who were happy to help carry the goods home.

Maria, one care recipient, shared, “This is my second visit. Thank you so much; the food and items you provided helped us a lot as I didn’t get help from any other agency. What you’ve done has been very, very helpful as we’re running out of diapers and baby formula.” Maria told the volunteers that many Santa Ana residents struggle to find work. In fact, many don’t have legal status and can’t find jobs, which makes life extraordinarily hard in a high-inflation environment.

The August 11 distribution is Maria’s second, and she is hugely thankful for Tzu Chi’s continual aid. Photo/Huiqing Su

Monica, another care recipient, said, “I just want to say thank you because food and diapers are so expensive these days. What Tzu Chi has done is so helpful for us.” And she expressed a wish about the distributions, “At present, you provide them once a month, but it would be more helpful if you could provide them twice because the food is gone in two weeks.”

Care recipient Monica (left) leaves the distribution site filled with gratitude for the supplies received since she struggles to meet her family's needs. Photo/Huiqing Su

Your love and care empower all our missions! Together, let’s make sure struggling families receive the support they need.  

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