Tzu Chi’s Relief Distribution Brings Hope to San Diego Flood Survivors

National Headquarters  |  March 13, 2024
Play Video about Care recipient with Tzu Chi blanket in hands and volunteer looking at each other

Tzu Chi volunteers encouraged the survivors to hold on. Photo/Michael Mazur

Written by Michael Mazur and Sarah Winter
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrew Larracuente

On January 22, San Diego in southern California experienced the worst rainstorm since there was a record 174 years ago. The rainstorm triggered flooding, leaving countless people’s homes submerged, with everything lost overnight. Tzu Chi National Headquarters held the first distribution on February 11. During the following three days, from February 16 to February 18, Tzu Chi volunteers invited affected families who had completed the disaster relief application process to come to the office to receive the relief packages and cash cards distributed by Tzu Chi.

Each relief package contains an eco-friendly blanket, a personal hygiene pack, an ear thermometer, an eco-friendly pen, Tzu Chi’s monthly newsletter, and Jing Si Aphorisms in four languages. On-site, living materials were gathered at the Tzu Chi National Headquarters Treasure House, including clothing, shoes, toys, and household items such as pots and pans, which were open for the affected families to pick up and collect on their own. By February 18, Tzu Chi had deployed 82 volunteers to distribute the supplies to 184 affected families, benefiting 703 survivors.

"I Lost Everything"

Shaquila Johnson
Shaquila Johnson burst into tears when talking about her losses. Photo/Michael Mazur

Since the flood, the lives of the survivors in the affected areas of San Diego have been difficult. Shaquila Johnson came to the Tzu Chi National Headquarters on February 18th to seek help, and as soon as she stepped into the service center, her tears persisted. Her house was flooded, and she said, “I lost everything, and my daughter lost everything.” Tzu Chi volunteers immediately greeted her warmly and gave her a big hug while giving her various supplies and cash cards, which were a blessing to Shaquila in her loss.

A man in blue shirt holding a little girl
A close-up of the affected residents who came to receive the supplies. Photo/Michael Mazur
Volunteers comfort crying victims
Tzu Chi volunteers warmly comforted the crying survivors. Photo/Michael Mazur

Gradually, Shaquila calmed down with the comfort and encouragement of the Tzu Chi volunteers. She said, “Immediately, I was just welcomed, and I am so grateful.

And I just want to, you know, slowly but surely get that back.”

Flooding photo on a phone
The pouring rain and raging flood submerged the houses. Photo/Michael Mazur

Too many survivors are in situations similar to Shaquila’s. Donna Ferguson, a single mother and civilian employee of the California Highway Patrol, recalled going to work as usual on the day of the storm. Still, she couldn’t go home by the end of the day. “My daughter and two grandchildren, who I live with, were forced to evacuate their home,” she said, adding that her home was also flooded. Not only did she lose her belongings, but with no place to stay, they were forced to stay in a hotel, causing her bills to skyrocket. She said, “We’re now living in a hotel temporarily, and we have to rely on takeout daily, which is very stressful for me. Thank you; you are the only group that provides cash help. I am grateful to have such a kind-hearted group like you!”

Elizabeth Ramirez and her husband worked hard to raise their son and daughter. They were already living modestly enough to get by, but the flood cost them everything: “We lost pretty much everything in the household. The water went above three to four feet. That was a pretty scary experience for both of my kids. And up to this day, it affects them a lot.” In addition to the emergency supplies, the bed and the cash cards provided by Tzu Chi were of great help to them. The bed could immediately give them a place to sleep and rest, thus relieving their immediate needs. They could use the cash card to purchase food and furniture. Elisabeth said gratefully, “We did get some funding. That’s going to be helping us a lot with recovering all of our furniture, especially the kids’ beds and mattresses. That aid is gonna help us a lot once we’re able to get back home.”

As a single mom who is dealing with the damages outside of the home but also trying to maintain the inside of the home, the money that was donated today as well as clothes and resources is gonna help us out a lot.

Restore Confidence to Stand Proud

“There is no one in the world that I don’t love; there is no one in the world that I don’t trust; there is no one in the world that I cannot forgive; all the sorrow and the worry, just let go.” Since the flooding in San Diego on January 22nd, this soothing, beautiful melody has been performed repeatedly at Tzu Chi National Headquarters.

Tzu Chi volunteers sing healing songs
Tzu Chi volunteers sang healing songs to comfort the survivors affected by the disaster. Photo/Michael Mazur
Tzu Chi volunteers sing healing songs
Tzu Chi volunteers singing healing songs. Photo/Michael Mazur

The singers were none other than the volunteers from Tzu Chi National Headquarters. They sang softly; their warm voices and healing lyrics soothed the broken hearts of the survivors. Some survivors wiped their tears, while others followed the sign language of the volunteers and made the same gestures. With the warmth of the songs, all the pain could fade into the wind, and they had the strength to stand up again.

Tzu Chi volunteers deeply understand the hardships faced by the survivors and the heavy trauma caused by the flood. They know that in this weary land, the helping hand that should be given goes beyond relief supplies and that it is also crucial to regain belief in life! Therefore, Tzu Chi volunteers conveyed the warmth of substance and ignited the fire of hope in the survivors, helping them regain the courage and hope to walk out of the mud.

To inspire the survivors to rebuild their homes, Tzu Chi volunteers introduced to the survivors the reason why Master Cheng Yen founded Tzu Chi, Tzu Chi’s spiritual philosophy, and Tzu Chi’s action of saving a small amount of money and doing a considerable amount of good with the bamboo bank. They also performed sign language programs for the survivors to make them feel love and hope.

Tzu Chi volunteers promoting Bamboo Bank
Tzu-Chi volunteers introduced the bamboo bank. Photo/Michael Mazur

Rodney Visley went to Tzu Chi National Headquarters on February 18th to seek help. In the days after the disaster, he felt miserable and hopeless every day. Still, after coming to Tzu Chi and listening to Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s story, the spirit of Tzu Chi, and the warm words of Tzu Chi’s volunteers, he felt the gloom in his heart gradually lifted. He smiled and said, “The devastation was a lot. And now, I guess, like hearing what Tzu Chi’s saying, I can get a little release today. And they’re pleased. Life is good because we’re alive. And we’re happy people, can’t let one thing get us down, and keep a smile ’cause better days are coming.”

Tzu Chi volunteer giving thumbs up to everyone
The survivors smiled again, inspired by the love of Tzu Chi volunteers. Photo/Michael Mazur
Tzu Chi volunteer and a kid having a hand shake
Tzu Chi volunteers shook hands with the children. Photo/Michael Mazur

Shaquila Johnson is happy she went to the Tzu Chi National Headquarters, where she feels the warmth of home and boundless love. She said, “I’m happy that I’m here. You feel the love and the family environment here, and I’m grateful.”

I think they feel the love here and that’s very important.

In the affected areas of San Diego, many residents are lower- to middle-income families struggling to make ends meet. While they have been struggling to get by every day, their homes were shattered, and their belongings were lost in the face of the sudden natural disaster. Returning to the rhythm of their old lives seems out of reach. At such a time, Tzu Chi’s relief efforts are like a ray of warmth in a harsh winter; every dollar of financial assistance is a vital help for these families. Each cash card is a relief in kind and a ray of hope, allowing them to purchase clothing, food, medicine, or pay for basic expenses such as rent and transportation.

Tzu Chi’s helping hand is not only an act of relief but also a spiritual support, allowing the people in suffering to feel the warmth and wisdom of Buddhism. Compassion is used to save the suffering, and compassion is used to uproot it. By reaching out to more, the grace of the Dharma can be shared. In these challenging times, Tzu Chi volunteers are the messengers of Buddha’s compassion, sowing the seeds of hope on earth. Disasters are ruthless, but love is among all humans; compassion for the world love warms the planet.

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