Written by Shuli Lo
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
Emilio Fong, an 86-year-old California resident, arrived at Gabrielino High School on March 13 in an electric wheelchair, and eagerly lined up for Tzu Chi USA’s drive-through food distribution at this location. Johnny So, Emilio’s elderly neighbor, had accompanied him and would also soon receive food. When Tzu Chi volunteers saw the two of them in line waiting their turn, they quickly attended to their needs.
Caring for Seniors in the Community
Emilio has two daughters and a son. Sadly, one of his daughters passed away in a car accident, and the other subsequently returned to the family’s hometown overseas. Emilio and his son remained in the United States, but the son doesn’t live with his father. Thus, Emilio can only rely on friends and neighbors, such as Johnny, for help if need be and government subsidies if available to him.
When Emilio and Johnny were in better health, they could drive to Tzu Chi’s distributions to get free food. These days they must take the bus, supporting each other through traveling together. Although it’s difficult for the elderly to get on and off a bus, especially if they are also physically challenged, many have no other choice but to use public transportation to pick up the free groceries they depend on, given their tight subsistence budgets.
Tzu Chi volunteers noticed that Emilio’s protective face shield was no longer in good condition from extended use. They gave him and Johnny brand new shields and extra masks, hoping that they would help keep them safe while using public transportation.
Additionally, although the two gentlemen said they could carry the four boxes of food they had received on Emilio’s electric wheelchair, the volunteers were worried that they might have difficulty getting the heavy boxes onto the bus. The volunteers insisted on accompanying them to the bus stop so they could help when it arrived. To make it even easier for the two, the volunteers helped re-pack the food from boxes into bags that could hang from the wheelchair.
After they had safely sent the two men off towards home on the bus, the volunteers hurried back to the distribution site and continued greeting residents in line, then serving them when it was their turn to receive food. Emilio Fong and Johnny So are just two senior care recipients in need of help in this community. Many, many more seniors also need regular support. Fortunately, this Tzu Chi USA food distribution is a monthly event in San Gabriel.
Grateful to Help Those in Need
The COVID-19 pandemic that swept across the globe last year severely impacted low- and middle-income families in the community, adding challenges and frustrations to their already complicated lifestyle. Some families face the mounting difficulties head-on and seek assistance optimistically; others are affected but find it hard to ask for help. This regular food distribution program has become a significant source of aid, relieving residents’ stress and needs.
Valerie Gomez, Chief Executive Officer of the YMCA of West San Gabriel Valley, has been assisting Tzu Chi USA’s distributions in the community for some time. She was emotional while recounting what she told her son this morning as she left home early to come to the distribution, pointing out that his family is lucky to be alright during these challenging times, while so many others are struggling.
Inviting Peers to Join the Aid Effort
Valerie Gomez is also President of the Rotary Club of San Gabriel District and involved in community activities for many years. She often invites different community groups to join the aid effort by serving during Tzu Chi USA’s distributions, hoping that more organizations and individuals can witness Tzu Chi’s missions in action and be inspired. Currently, it is especially vital to work together in assisting economically disadvantaged families.
On the day of the distribution, Valerie invited four volunteers from Kiwanis International to participate. Wai Lee from the Kiwanis Club of Alhambra believes in the importance of such community aid, stating that “Because of COVID-19, many people became unemployed. People need food to feed their children and themselves, so the food drive is very meaningful.”
Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters region’s food distribution on March 13 went smoothly thanks to nearly 30 volunteers from different organizations, who checked care recipients’ IDs, handed out food, and helped in various ways. The drive-through distribution method allowed vehicles to enter the distribution stations in an orderly manner, and within three hours, the volunteers had given away 300 sets of groceries.
When the volunteers heard the magic words “thank you” from care recipients, everyone felt joyful and looked forward to the subsequent food distribution soon so that they could come and help again.
You can be part of such distributions through your support of Tzu Chi USA’s missions and programs nationwide. Together, through our love and care, we can lessen the burden of hardships stemming from the prolonged impact of the pandemic.