Written by Hsiu Chun Wong
Translated by Julienne Chi
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region’s Manhattan Service Center had set the wheels in motion for a food distribution event in New York City on July 10, 2020, to aid vulnerable families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It would be the first fruit and vegetable distribution held at the Manhattan Service Center in Chinatown, and preparations had combined the efforts of volunteers from the Northeast Region Office in Flushing and the region’s Brooklyn Service Center as well.
Everything was ready to go when on the morning of the event, there was unexpected heavy rain. Understandably, the volunteers assembled there to set up were anxious, asking themselves: “The people that come, will they get soaking wet? The residents of this area have already suffered so much due to the pandemic. Will this rainfall be adding to their troubles?”
But they went ahead as planned, preparing for the arrival of care recipients despite the downpour, setting up tents at the site, displaying the supplies, and completing registrations to ensure everything was in order. Actually, preparations had begun days before. To avoid large gatherings and minimize wait time, the volunteers had called registered residents to schedule specific times to come and collect the food.
Finally, on the day of the event, volunteers did their best to keep the residents from getting too wet in the rain, loading the fruit and vegetables in their carts or bags, helping care recipients put on rainwear, and opening umbrellas. In total, 30 volunteers participated in the distribution, and 122 residents came to collect food packages.
Linan Chang-Ouyang, who came to receive a food package, shared her thoughts about the experience, saying, “The weather is so terrible, but the volunteers are so meticulous. The care coming from the bottom of their hearts made me feel cared for during the pandemic.” She said that the amount of supplies given doesn’t need to be much; it’s the intention that is most important. Linan was deeply moved and hoped to join the ranks of volunteers.
Indeed, under the guidance of Sansan Jiang, Charity Officer for the Manhattan Service Center, a lot of care had gone into choosing the items contained in the packages of food supplies the volunteers distributed. In addition to fresh fruit and vegetable produce from local businesses, the environmentally friendly bags included Tzu Chi’s signature Jing Si rice and noodles.
These food staples are from Tzu Chi’s global headquarters in Hualien, Taiwan, where Dharma Master Cheng Yen and her monastic followers reside. The blessings of the nuns behind these healthy products surely accompanied them, joining the flow of love from the volunteers distributing the food packages in New York.
Looking back at the distribution, volunteer John Hung, one of the key figures behind the event, said, “This was the Manhattan office’s first fruit and vegetable distribution. Although the weather was not ideal, Tzu Chi volunteers are not afraid of hard work and are committed to serving the community.”
With the successful completion of this first distribution despite challenging weather, it was time to look ahead at what further support volunteers could provide in Manhattan. Peggy Sheng, Director of the Manhattan Service Center, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had hit many communities and vulnerable groups in the area hard, with elderly and low-income residents in Chinatown left facing grave financial constraints.
Going forward, Tzu Chi USA aims to collaborate with more wholesalers and apply for food bank support. The goal is to begin providing free food and supplies in the area regularly. Simultaneously, volunteers from this service center, as at all Tzu Chi USA offices nationwide, are adamant about promoting vegetarianism to help save the planet.
Peggy Sheng emphasized that eating a vegetarian diet can enhance the body’s immunity and help reduce greenhouse gases. She hopes that through such distributions of fresh vegetarian produce, Tzu Chi volunteers can advance healthy eating habits and green living within New York communities and across the United States.
Even under a blanket of heavy rain, the volunteers still didn’t forget to seize the opportunity to introduce Tzu Chi’s bamboo bank spirit and encourage daily giving to benefit those in need close to home and around the world.
Additionally, Tzu Chi USA collaborated with the U.S. Census Bureau that day, encouraging residents to complete the census. Besides the tangible food supplies distributed on July 10, the event had gathered the love and kindness of volunteers and their commitment to accompany residents through the hardships they now face.
That’s the spirit everyone needs right now, one of solidarity and mutual support because we are all in this together. Please add your love so programs such as this can continuously be launched and flourish in the United States.