Paying It Forward: Tzu Chi East LA’s First Food Distribution at Santana High School a Great Success

National Headquarters  |  November 30, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteers work together to help beneficiaries carry supplies to their car trunks. Photo/Lina Lee

Written by Lina Lee, Jianqun Lee
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley

Since March 2018, every first Monday of the month, Tzu Chi East Los Angeles volunteers have distributed fruits and vegetables at Villacorta Elementary School. It has been ongoing for four years, providing countless underresourced families with good nutrition and assistance.

As participants grew, the parking lot at Villacorta Elementary School became too small for the distribution scale. And so, the Rowland School District Committee reached out to neighboring Santana High School (SHS) to provide a larger space for distribution.

The New Site Put To Good Use

On November 14, 2022, Tzu Chi East Los Angeles volunteers held their first distribution at Santana High School. Two days before, volunteers began preparing for the distribution at the Headquarters Academy, preparing two boxes and two bags of supplies for each family, including fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables and dry groceries such as rice, noodles, dried beans, and canned food.

Tzu Chi volunteers confirm car plates
Volunteers confirmed the supplies distributed to each car according to the number card on the windshield. Photo/Lina Lee

The volunteers continued to adopt a “drive-through” method at the new site. On the day of the distribution, the volunteers set up three tents in the parking lot next to the school’s fence, each with six volunteers at each station. On the opposite side of each tent, there were also two volunteers, one to guide the vehicles with banners and one to confirm the card numbers on windshields. This arrangement made the distribution process fast and smooth.

“Paying It Forward”

Behind every seemingly simple distribution was the hard work of countless volunteers. In addition to the Tzu Chi East LA volunteers, many local volunteers from the Roland School District and community volunteers came to help with sincere and grateful hearts.

Xiu Chun Zhuo, a former employee in the accounting office of Tzu Chi USA Headquarters, attended the day’s event. Unfortunately, she had to return to Taiwan in early January because of a family member’s health problem. She has been participating in the distribution for many years and was sad to leave the distribution for a while, “I’m going back to Taiwan next month, so I want to take this opportunity to give. I am grateful to Tzu Chi USA for allowing me to give to the public.”

Shukun Zou, the director of the real estate division of the Los Angeles Asia Chamber of Commerce, assisted Tzu Chi with three distributions. She said, “I am pleased I can join Tzu Chi USA this year to serve the neighborhood and distribute food to underresourced people. The socioeconomic environment in the U.S. is not good right now, and many people have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. I can do my small part to help some people, and I feel that this is what I need to do.”

Loryn Cocos, a teacher at Santana High School, looked at the endless lines at the distribution site and realized that there were many people in need in the neighborhood where he lives, which he felt was heartbreaking. But he was grateful to think that there are people who care.

When I leave today, I’ll leave with a full heart, and I'm really glad I was able to do that today.

At the distribution site, volunteer Mark Quizon was particularly skillful. In 2015 he got involved with Tzu Chi USA, and Mark has been coming in to help whenever he can. Whether it’s packing food and clothing or helping with vaccinations at the start of the pandemic, Mark has always been passionate. He says, “I love what Tzu Chi does for people. People help each other. It’s like a kind of ‘paying it forward’ through people, the community, and eventually throughout the world. It’s like magic; when everyone comes together to get things done, it makes me feel like I’ve done something great. And everyone gets along so well. We work together, making me feel welcome and a part of a family.”

According to Miriam Kim, director of district public relations and outreach programs for the Rowland School District, many families at Santana High School previously could not access food distribution. The new location’s distribution site will support more families.

We are excited to continue our partnership with Tzu Chi USA and we know that many families as well as many students and staff will benefit from this great work. Thank you very much!

Santana High School Food Distribution volunteers group photo
Group photo of Santana High School's first distribution of volunteers. Photo /Lina Lee

As Santana High School’s food distribution continues, more families are participating. As a result, the distribution has become a popular event. Thanks to them, Tzu Chi’s loving spirit continues to “pay it forward.”

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