How Tzu Chi’s El Monte Service Center Educated Small Business Owners on COVID-19 Prevention

National Headquarters  |  February 20, 2020
Volunteers visit Dr. Chester Zahn’s office to spread awareness of the coronavirus epidemic. Photo by Yuanhsiao Cheng

Written by Jane Lu, Mandy Lo, Roger Kao, and Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Dilber Shatursun

Seeing the coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, begin to spread around the world, Tzu Chi volunteers in the Los Angeles area took it upon themselves to educate small businesses to raise awareness on disease prevention measures, vegetarianism, and daily prayers this February.

Outlining Preventative Measures

By February, the Tzu Chi El Monte service center was already taking preventative measures. Every visitor received a temperature check upon entrance and was asked to sanitize their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub. A public health seminar, too, focused on the coronavirus disease was held for the public and seniors to show them easy-to-follow preventative actions they could take.

The head of the center, Tzu Chi volunteer James Chen, briefed fellow volunteers about preventive actions they needed to take during visits to local businesses. Photo by Mandy Lo
Tzu Chi volunteer, Yuanhsiao Cheng (left) demonstrates the correct way to wear a mask. Photo by Mandy Lo

Tzu Chi volunteer James Chen, head of the service center, recommended his fellow volunteers form an epidemic education team that would focus on local businesses. From the authority of small businesses, he hoped they would be able to guide the communities they serve in further spreading awareness and best steps for COVID-19 prevention.

In his briefing, James emphasized the following points volunteers would cover:

  1. introduction of the current situation

  2. the risk/threat of the new coronavirus

  3. epidemic prevention, including hand washing

  4. potential racial discrimination/profiling against Asian-origin individuals and communities

  5. introduction of Tzu Chi and its response to COVID-19

Throughout February, Tzu Chi service centers and offices across the US began sanitizing commonly touched surfaces, checking temperatures, and promoted health education. Tzu Chi volunteers also began promoting the adoption of vegetarian diets at all events and functions as a gentle response to the prevention of further zoonotic, or animal borne, illnesses.

Forming Genuine Connections with Diligence

Tzu Chi’s international disaster relief efforts and interfaith humanitarianism raised interest from the local community.

Some shops are owned by Catholics or Christians, and I showed them Tzu Chi's international disaster relief efforts in Ecuador, where we built a church for the locals, and they nodded with great interest.

A volunteer seize the opportunity to spread the awareness of epidemic prevention in a shop they visited. Photo by Yuanhsiao Cheng

However, it’s not always so easy introducing a Buddhist humanitarian organization to a perfect stranger. Tzu Chi volunteer LiHsing Wei said, “I was intimidated at first and didn’t want to do it. But, after doing it constantly, I found we became friends with many of the business owners we visited… it was very rewarding.”

While they shared all this information, Tzu Chi volunteers also left bamboo banks with business owners, planting the roots of love and charity across El Monte and San Gabriel, California.

Awakening thru the Epidemic

Shihyu Teng, the owner of a beauty salon, has been a lifelong omnivore. Before meeting Tzu Chi volunteers, she shared that she felt being a vegetarian was next to impossible for her. But, seeing the epidemic spread, Shihyu told volunteers she felt inspired to try vegetarianism.

The owner of a beauty salon changes her eating habits from meat-eater to no interest in eating more meat due to the coronavirus epidemic. Photo by Mandy Lo
Tzu Chi volunteers visited small businesses to raise awareness on disease prevention, forming new bonds with the community in the process. Photo by Mandy Lo

Dr. Chester Zahn, a gastroenterologist, who has been a vegetarian for over 30 years also encouraged a vegetarian diet.

It’s natural for me to be a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian is a virtue in Buddhism and reduces some bad karma.

Dr. Zahn shared his personal opinion about the new coronavirus pandemic. He explained the theory that the virus was transmitted from animals killed for human consumption, and as now begun to spread from person-to-person. Dr. Zahn emphasized his optimism for the virus disappearing, much like SARS did in the early 2000s.

A Healthy Vegetarian Diet

Yuching Yu-Huang, the owner of D’ange Bakery, is in her late 70s. She is the founding chairperson of the Lions Club International from Taoyuan, Taiwan. A lifelong omnivore, too, she began adopting a vegetarian diet after a cancer diagnosis and encouraged others around her to do the same.

As an epidemic preventative measure, she paid special attention in keeping air in her store well-circulated and reminded her staff to be extra vigilant with hygiene and hand washing.

Tzu Chi volunteers and the owner of D’ange Bakery chat at the shop on a regular basis. Photo by Yuanhsiao Cheng
Tzu Chi volunteers visits Shihchu Chen (second left), the owner of Olympic Bakery. Photo by Yuanhsiao Cheng

The owner of Olympic Bakery, Shihchu Chen, too, elaborated that she ate a vegetarian meal once a week.

Tzu Chi volunteers Berlinda Lin and Vincent Chen decided to encourage restaurant owners to participate in advocating vegetarianism through “one vegetarian meal a day.” In this effort, a vegetarian meal would be sent to the participants daily at noon through a local restaurant, generating positive business and showcasing the deliciousness and diversity of vegetarian cuisine.

Though the spread of COVID-19 began to worry residents at the time, they expressed positivity and optimism after visits from Tzu Chi volunteers. And now, as many businesses close temporarily to flatten the curve, we hope and pray for the best.

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