Tzu Chi Houston Provides Emergency Relief to Fire Survivor Families

Southern  |  November 7, 2022
Volunteers survey the apartment community where the fire broke out on March 20, 20221. Photo/Pen-Chi Liu

Written by Pen-Chi Liu and Jennifer Chien
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Diana Chang, Andrea Barkley

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on March 20, 2021, a fire broke out in the Spice Lane apartment community in southwest Houston, Texas. The fire quickly spread to multiple apartment units. Sleeping residents, jolted by the sudden emergency, escaped in a hurry. Firefighters quickly contained the blaze, but the fire damaged 16 apartments. In addition, the units experienced smoke and sewage damage, and residents could not return home that night.

Happy Campus Caring for the Community

Volunteers from the Tzu Chi Southern Region learned about the fire. They contacted the Landis Elementary School, which cooperated with the Tzu Chi Happy Campus Program (HCP). They learned from Reyna Vega, student support manager of the elementary school, that several students in the school were victims of the fire.

In the apartment community that was hit by fire, many units are severely damaged. Photo/Pen-Chi Liu
The roofs of some apartment units burned down. Photo/Pen-Chi Liu

Tzu Chi Southern Region has been promoting the HCP in Houston’s low-income community for quite some time. Volunteers regularly attended partner schools to distribute school supplies, winter clothes, and uniforms and organize vegetarian lunch distributions for children and teachers. This partnership proved beneficial in the following days.

After communicating with Tzu Chi Southern Region, Landis Elementary School confirmed that several families needed emergency assistance. In early April, Reyna Vega cooperated with volunteer Julienne Chi to help two households. After an evaluation, these families received $900 in emergency relief. They also supplied eco-friendly blankets, masks, first aid kits, and other essentials. 

By April 22, Tzu Chi volunteers received another urgent aid application form from another family. Tzu Chi Southern Region volunteers will continue tracking the affected households, confirming their needs, and promptly providing assistance.

Setting up a Safety Net for Emergency Rescue

Volunteer Julienne Chi (right) introduces Tzu Chi to Victoria Elena Paises (left) and Carolina N. Dos Santos Mejia (middle, pink shirt). Photo/Pen-Chi Liu

Carolina N. Dos Santos Mejia and her husband, Hugo Marroquin, have three children. The couple came to Tzu Chi Southern Region to collect their cash card and supplies. Carolina described to the volunteers how they rushed out of the apartment early in the morning and realized they had taken nothing with them. So now the family was left with nothing, not even insurance, to settle claims. Now they even need to purchase their basic daily necessities and clothes.

I am a self-employed. I sell bedding and kitchenware. The fire burned all of my inventory and personal belongings.

Victoria Elena Paises explained her financial situation to the volunteers with great sadness. She and her husband, Rutilio Hernandez, and their child struggle to adapt to life after the fire. But, she said, “Thank you to Reyna and all Tzu Chi volunteers for your help. Now we can be less worried about the skyrocketing living expenses.”

Knowing they lacked daily necessities, the volunteers invited survivors to visit Tzu Chi’s Regional Branch storage room. There they could find donated refrigerators, furniture, and other household items. They also invited survivors to Tzu Chi’s food distribution service. Finally, volunteers invite Victoria and her family to return later that month to receive more food and necessities from Tzu Chi’s regular semi-monthly food distribution.

Carolina (left) was moved by Tzu Chi's assistance and wrote a thank you card to the volunteers on the spot. Photo/Pen-Chi Liu
Thank you card from Carolina to Tzu Chi. Photo/Pen-Chi Liu

Life sometimes presents unforeseen events and accidents. Tzu Chi Southern Region volunteers have been deeply involved in their community, working hard to build a safety net of emergency relief for residents. When tragedy strikes, affected families can rest assured that Tzu Chi will be there to help them face future difficulties with optimism and hope.

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