Written by Hsinyi Yu
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
Tzu Chi USA’s Mid-Atlantic Region has reopened its food pantry in New Jersey after a month of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of people unemployed in New Jersey had reached 930,000 as of the end of April. With the infection rate slightly alleviated, volunteers decided to resume food distribution services on May 1, hoping to help vulnerable populations through Tzu Chi’s companionship and support during this crisis.
Volunteers notified the local food bank a week before, letting it know that the Tzu Chi New Jersey Food Pantry was about to reopen. The food bank immediately prepared 6,000 pounds of food staples along with the 4,000 pounds that the volunteers pre-ordered. Nearly 10,000 pounds (about 4,536 kg) of dry goods and canned food were ready for distribution. Chiahuang Chang, Deputy Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, said, “With this distribution, we hope to help care recipients with 150 prepared bags of food.”
Although New Jersey residents are all affected by the pandemic, many still volunteered and came to help. For safety reasons, all volunteers were reminded to maintain a safe distance between each other while preparing the food and at the distribution tables, plus to wear masks and gloves at all times. The entire operation proceeded well as everyone cooperated while taking care of sorting fruits, packing food into bags, bringing those to the distribution tables, and handing them out.
One week before reopening the food pantry on May 1, volunteers called care recipients to remind them about the distribution date and time. Those who came to pick up food said that this aid makes a big difference for them, as they don’t have to worry about putting food on the table while under the strain of their current financial difficulties.
In addition to the food provided, the grocery bags contained two medical masks as well. The care recipients were happy to receive these as it is tough to find medical masks at this time, and they thanked the volunteers, expressing their gratitude to Tzu Chi.
Fred Kumahlor, a regular care recipient who is like an old friend to the volunteers, needs to feed eight people in his family. He usually stops by the food pantry to pick up food during his break from work. On May 1, when he stopped by, the volunteers sang for him to celebrate his birthday.
When things become unpredictable, we learn how valuable it is to maintain regular routines as much as possible. By reopening the food pantry, volunteers in New Jersey could bring a measure of familiar normalcy back for aid recipients enduring the pandemic’s unprecedented disruption of their lives. For those giving love and care and those receiving it, it was a means of coming together, while facing the uncertainties of the new normal that lies ahead.