Hope Drives Healing: Tzu Chi Volunteers Help Fire Survivors Rebuild Their Lives

Northwest  |  September 9, 2022
Volunteers explain how to use the Tzu Chi cash card to disaster-stricken resident Shane Goodsky. Photo/Xinqian Zheng

Written by Xinqian Zheng
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Maggie Morgan

“Our apartment was on fire, and almost everyone was displaced,” said Shane Goodsky, a resident of the Madison Apartment Homes in Seattle, Washington that went up in flames on June 12, 2022. Shane received Tzu Chi cash cards and supplies to help alleviate his immediate burdens. He expressed his gratitude excitedly: “I’m quickly recovering now, and I’m very happy to meet you [Tzu Chi] here. You’ve helped a lot when we least expected it, so it really was a great blessing.”

A moment of oversight can have unpredictable consequences. Shane and other residents of the apartment complex learned this first-hand one evening as a fire quickly broke out as a result of an overturned candle. The tiny flame touched a piece of furniture, and the sprinklers and fire extinguishers failed to do their job.

The fire spread to 65 households, and a total of 75 households were impacted by the blaze. One resident was killed in the fire, one died of serious injuries, and several others were wounded. Tzu Chi volunteers in Seattle responded as quickly as possible. 

The team went to the Red Cross Emergency Relief Center on June 25 to help register survivors. A week later, on July 3, volunteers visited the Garfield Community Center to distribute cash cards and emergency supplies to comfort those in urgent need.

Hope Always Wins: Residents Find a Way to Live After Loss

Hope Always Wins: Residents Find a Way to Live After Loss
Tzu Chi volunteers explained the usage of the cash card to the affected residents. Photo/Xinqian Zheng

After the smoke cleared, some of the dwellings that didn’t undergo severe damage were still habitable to residents. Some residents returned to their homes, but not everyone was as fortunate. The fourth floor and the floors close to the fire’s origin were completely destroyed. Nearly 40 homes were burnt beyond recognition, and residents lost almost everything they owned.

From interactions with survivors, volunteer Lijun Shan learned more about their immediate situations: “There are many households whose furniture, clothing, personal belongings, as well as their beloved and collected works of art have been destroyed in the fires.”

However, even in a time of uncertainty, residents still found a way to hold on to hope. Among them was a young couple expecting a child; they were looking forward to rebuilding their home to prepare for an entirely new life. They enthusiastically shared with Tzu Chi volunteers the baby’s growth and some ultrasound photos. The anticipation of becoming parents overtook the stress of their current reality. 

Before and after the distribution, the residents greeted each other and checked in on their neighbors’ well-being. The shared traumatic experience created an unspoken solidarity, a warmth among residents in the community as they supported one another on the road to reconstructing their lives.

Volunteer Michael Ng was deeply moved by this: “Today I distributed to four affected residents. Although I could sense that they were going through difficulties, they did not appear sad or dispirited but exalted positive energy, willing to accept their circumstances and look forward, which I think is a good thing. They are also very grateful to have been helped.”

Tzu Chi can give them some help and care, and they are very willing to share the spirit of Tzu Chi. That kind of compassion, or the spirit of willingness to help others, was deeply felt by them.

Offering More than Aid: Volunteers Open Their Hearts to Survivors

The Red Cross Emergency Relief Commissioner who cooperated on that day took a group photo with Tzu Chi volunteers. Photo/Xinqian Zheng

The Red Cross and Tzu Chi have partnered in countless aid efforts throughout the years. Their teamwork is seamless, and their individual influences allow for more effective, impactful distributions. On the day of the event, a total of 36 households came to collect cash cards and supplies. 

A group of 21 Tzu Chi volunteers participated in the distribution; eight people were working their first emergency relief distribution and five were new volunteers. A week later, on July 10, Tzu Chi volunteers returned to the Madison Apartments’ Community Center to help five more disaster-affected households and provide follow-up care to residents.

At the event site, a Red Cross commissioner assisted Tzu Chi volunteers in verifying the identities of the residents. They helped handle applications for new housing for victims and contacted the Seattle government and housing resettlement units to begin finding new housing for those affected. For residents who have lost their homes, finding a place to live is their top priority. Red Cross Emergency Relief Commissioner, Ashley Joos, expressed: “Most affected residents in emergency shelters required prioritized help in finding new accommodations as soon as possible so that they can move out of the shelter. After all, the shelter is only temporary and the facilities are not very holistic, so it is necessary to find the residents a place to live.”

In addition to material aid, Tzu Chi’s relief work includes companionship through listening to and connecting with those who are suffering. Jane Brown, a member of the Red Cross who also came to assist, said that she has been working in emergency relief for many years. Jane noted that few organizations or institutions can make such a positive impression on the recipients as Tzu Chi does. 

The volunteers strive to be kind, unpretentious, and gentle. It’s more than an example of giving back, it’s a model of how humans should treat one another every day. The compassion of Tzu Chi volunteers made the beneficiaries feel cared for and heard. The event made it clear that although the path to rebuilding their lives might be difficult, they are never alone on the bumpy road.

Thanks to the support of the local government, the Red Cross, and community organizations, Tzu Chi successfully gathered supplies to deliver love and hope to survivors of the fire. The only kind of marketing that matters is promoting the spirit of kindness and spreading awareness of ending suffering for all beings. As always, Tzu Chi simply showed up, and the circle of compassion grew organically through real human connection.

The scene of Seattle Tzu Chi volunteers distribution for the Madison apartment fire relief. Photo/Xinqian Zheng

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