Written by Christina Chang
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Diana Chang and Adriana DiBenedetto
The car slowly turned onto Fifth Street in Watsonville, CA, to reveal the warm welcomes of municipal government staff members and two policemen. Driving gently onward, the melody of Christmas songs became clearer. The jingle of resounding silver bells echoed about the elk, the snowman, and the tall Christmas tree. A silver-haired Santa Claus in a red suit and hat and a group of Tzu Chi volunteers in their signature blue and white attire stood on the curbside, joyful in the winter sun. As they waved to the cars, the adults and children rolled down the window and waved back happily. The first Sunday in December of 2020 marked a Christmas tradition that’s been upheld for the past 18 consecutive years. The distribution of Christmas gifts, organized by the municipal government and Tzu Chi volunteers, was for the families of agricultural workers from the Watsonville community.
As the impact of the pandemic persists across the globe and confirmed cases in California reached their peak in the first half of the year, volunteers in Silicon Valley immediately contacted their long-term partners with the Watsonville municipal government and the police department to deliver essential personal protective equipment (PPE). At the time, the municipal government’s spokesperson expressed concern for the health and wellbeing of the community’s food and farm workers, as well as whether the pandemic would interrupt the annual winter distribution. When the spokesperson asked if Tzu Chi would come again, a Tzu Chi volunteer named Judy Liao responded with confidence that they would indeed be back.
On Sunday, December 6th, 2020, Tzu Chi volunteers returned to Watsonville as scheduled to hold a collaborative Christmas distribution for the families of agricultural workers with the municipal government.
Tzu Chi volunteers brought 240 Christmas gifts to 90 families. To help families contend with the challenges of the pandemic and support their good health, they also prepared 90 bags of everyday hygiene products tailored to each family member. The packages additionally included Jing Si Instant Rice, noodles, and also eco-friendly blankets for 13 elderly community members. At the end of the year, families collected their gifts and supplies using a drive-through distribution method to uphold vital social distancing procedures. Despite the six-foot distance, the warmth of Tzu Chi volunteers and families abounded.
A Christmas Activity Planned For Nearly Half A Year
Carmen Pichardo, a Recreation Coordinator for the City of Watsonville who organized this Christmas gift distribution, said the activity had been underway since August of 2020. Since October, seven core community organizations had been inviting families to register online and proceeded to confirm the list by phone. On December 6th when he saw his colleagues at Watsonville Senior Center on Fifth Street, Carmen was elated. This was the first time the venue had been opened since the lockdown in March so the gifts could be organized.
Seeing Tzu Chi volunteers in protective equipment going in and out to prepare for the outdoor activity at the gate, Carmen said gratefully, “Thanks to the help of Tzu Chi volunteers, we can complete this distribution to 90 community families. You are truly amazing. Thank you for your cooperation in this activity.”
Judy Liao, a Tzu Chi volunteer, said that due to the pandemic, Christmas gift distributions could not be carried out through a joyful indoor dinner activity as in the past. As such, it was adapted into a “drive-through” event. Volunteers specially prepared care packages of cloth masks and personal hygiene products according to the age of each family member.
When Judy Liao planned to carry out the distribution activity using Fifth Street, she also considered traffic concerns, and was relieved by Carmen’s response. Carmen said that Tzu Chi volunteers have been caring for the community’s agricultural workers for 17 consecutive years. At the peak of the pandemic in early 2020, volunteers immediately came to care for responders on the frontlines of the pandemic, and donated a large amount of protective equipment. Watsonville police officers are very familiar with Tzu Chi volunteers, and were happy to extend their help with the situation. Sure enough, on the day of the distribution, two friendly police officers stood at the intersection and smiled as they guided the traffic flow so the outdoor distribution could be carried out smoothly.
Agricultural Workers Celebrate Christmas Together
Each family drove to the door of the Watsonville Senior Center on Fifth Street to receive a Bamboo Bank and a unique care package containing hygiene products and children’s gifts from Santa Claus. All of the guests were surrounded by a warm current of joy as they arrived, and took home the love and supplies to spend the winter with their most cherished ones.
Benjamin Warn walked to the event to collect the gifts with his daughter. After his daughter received a teddy bear from Santa Claus, she thanked volunteers and played happily with her new toy.
Blessings From Silicon Valley
All of the Christmas gifts and personalized care packages were donated by parents of students from Tzu Chi Academy in Cupertino and by Tzu Chi volunteers from the West San Jose community. The donation drive by Tzu Chi Academy in Cupertino took place every Saturday morning in November.
Volunteers recognized a familiar face in one of the cars rolling up to the donation site. It was Eric Ho — a Tzu Chi Academy graduate. Eric graduated in 2007 and entered the working world, yet continued to interact with his alma mater. Whenever there is an opportunity to help, he always does his best and gives it his all. “This is an especially tough year,” said Eric. “Aside from the pandemic, many other problems arise. So if there’s a chance to help, then I try to help. I wish these families the best.”
“I hope to share the joy and festivity in celebrating the Christmas season so the families can feel the care and warmth,” said a parent, Shu-Hui Wu, who also brought a thoughtful gift to the school.
Another parent from Tzu Chi Academy in Cupertino, Lisa Wong, sent gifts directly to Tzu Chi volunteers in the West San Jose community. She expressed that providing gifts for the families at the upcoming distribution is a tradition. Therefore, she did her best to help continue such an important activity in 2020 while the pandemic continues to produce countless challenges. “I hope the families can protect themselves; that they don’t get sick, and can stay healthy.” As Lisa Wong observed Tzu Chi volunteers sorting out gifts and supplies in front of the garage, she felt moved, and said, “I hope there will be more love from others to help people. Thank you.”
A bamboo bank signifies hope, a Christmas gift bestows love and blessings, and a personal care package signifies support for one’s health and wellness. It’s the wish of all Tzu Chi volunteers that the hope, blessings, and sincere care will bring smiles and a lasting warmth to the lives of the 90 families served in the city of Watsonville, and that we’ll continue to serve the community, together.