Gathered in Gratitude, Silicon Valley Volunteers Help a Community in Need Celebrate the Holidays

Northwest  |  December 30, 2023
Tzu Chi volunteers in Silicon Valley held a winter distribution for local care recipients. Volunteers invited all present to form a gratitude circle to share glad tidings before the holiday season. Photo/Tina Tuan
Tzu Chi volunteers in Silicon Valley held a winter distribution for local care recipients. Volunteers invited all present to form a gratitude circle to share glad tidings before the holiday season. Photo/Tina Tuan

Written by Ping Liao
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane

Tzu Chi volunteers in Silicon Valley held a winter distribution on December 09, 2023, at Costano Elementary School in East Palo Alto. Through careful preparation by 53 participating volunteers, including 8 Spanish translation volunteers, 44 local families in need were given supplies and Christmas gifts. The distribution site became a place of gratitude during the warm holiday season, where volunteers and residents gathered together to share in the Gratitude Circle, echoing each other’s love.

A Gratitude Circle and Best Wishes

The volunteers began the distribution by creating a Gratitude Circle. Volunteers Tiffany Liu and Ricardo Tejada guided the parents of the families in need to sit in a cozy circle. This created a lively and welcoming atmosphere. In the Gratitude Circle, the volunteers invited each participant to share a moment that made them thankful, while the volunteers, participating as companions, listened attentively to each person’s story. Meanwhile, Spanish-speaking volunteers were specially arranged for Spanish-speaking guests, ensuring that each member of the circle could fluently share and understand each other’s gratitude.

Moving and heartwarming scenes as each volunteer and resident shared a moment that makes them thankful. Photo/Steven Chiu

Volunteers encouraged each participant to think positively about life, to feel the beauty of their surroundings and life experiences, to take stock of their lives, to find blessings and gratitude in daily actions, and to emphasize that gratitude should be integrated into every aspect of life, so everyone can face life positively, and focus on the happiness they already have.

Everyone in the “Gratitude Circle” encourages each other to face life with positivity. Photo/Tina Tuan

The Gratitude Circle was filled with different stories of gratitude and lots of laughter. This lighthearted yet profound sharing of blessings made the bond between the community residents grow stronger and deeper. At the end of the sharing period, the venue was filled with a peaceful atmosphere. Each participant held a Blessing and Wisdom Heart Lamp in their hands and sang the prayers in their hearts together. These heart lamps were like tiny stars, radiating warmth and light. Through the prayers, everyone expressed gratitude for life and love, as well as good thoughts for others and blessings for the future.

People can hold the Blessing and Wisdom Heart Lamp and sing the prayers in their hearts. Photo/Tina Tuan

Volunteers guided participants to recall moments in their lives that had brought them warmth and kindness, and to write down special experiences and words of gratitude on cards. Afterward, each card filled with sincere blessings and best wishes was carefully pasted onto the Christmas Tree drawing board, filling the special Christmas Tree with a variety of colors and blessings, symbolizing that the entire community is filled with love and hope.

People write cards of gratitude and best wishes and pasted them onto the Christmas Tree drawing board. Photo/Steven Chiu

Sharing Blessings of Love

Eleven years ago Ronda White, a resident of the community, got to know Tzu Chi volunteers at Brentwood Elementary School, where her son was enrolled in kindergarten. At that time, the Happy Campus volunteer team was assisting with campus activities at schools in the East Palo Alto School District. Afterward, her son transferred to Belle Haven Elementary School, where the Happy Campus team also assisted with school activities that promoted Tzu Chi’s humanistic values. Volunteers also used the school platform to further their efforts in the community and expand their care for disadvantaged families through charity activities. These positive actions in her community helped Ronda become more familiar with Tzu Chi.

Over the past eleven years, Ronda has participated in various activities organized by Tzu Chi, including Mental Health Day, community free clinics, and Back-to-School Distribution, among others. Ronda and her family have also been among the families who receive supplies needed for their daily lives. Her children’s school also benefited from Tzu Chi’s assistance, all while experiencing the warmth of Tzu Chi volunteers.

Ronda participated in the Gratitude Circle at the distribution. Her heart was particularly touched after listening to the stories of two fellow community members, one of whom faced great difficulty adapting to her new life after moving from Hawaii to Silicon Valley, and to whom Tzu Chi offered a helping hand in times of need. The other touching story came from a Tzu Chi volunteer, who shared the pain of losing her father and how the volunteers helped her through the low moments of her life. 

Ronda took a moment to reflect, and quickly she was filled with gratitude, saying, “Although I lost my father when I was ten years old, my mother, who is now in her eighties, still lives with me. That is a blessing from the Lord. And with the mutual support of family, friends, and neighbors in the community, everything is so important to be present in life.”

Ronda shares that she is thankful for what she currently had in her life. Photo/Tina Tuan

Helping the Next Generation Succeed

Tzu Chi volunteers recently launched the Youth Bright program in the community, which aims to assist local students with completing their higher education and college applications. Jose Gonzalez Ramirez, a high school senior, participated in the program and submitted his application for an electrical engineering degree program a few weeks ago. He hopes to have a professional education that prepares him for his future in society. As an afterschool activity, Jose volunteers at the community food bank distributions, providing carts for people who come to receive food but are unable to carry it.

During the Gratitude Circle, Jose was touched by many stories he heard, from the sadness of regret to the joy of fulfillment. Jose said, “This gratitude sharing made me realize that everyone in life is facing challenges. And it made me feel that it is important to be thankful for what you have and to be kind to others in life.”

High school student Jose, who participated in the Youth Bright program, volunteers at the winter distribution to help people in his community. Photo/Steven Chiu

Armando Quintanilla came to the U.S. from El Salvador after much hardship, including failing to enter the U.S. three times. He finally succeeded on his fourth attempt. Armando is currently working as a gardener. His dream is to own his own truck and be able to take on jobs on his own so that he can be better off and improve his life.

After sharing his migration story and struggles striving for a better life in the U.S. in the Gratitude Circle, Armando expressed his and his family’s gratitude for the care and support Tzu Chi volunteers have given them during this trying time, “I have always wanted to be able to strive for more resources for my family to make our life better. I first got to know Tzu Chi because the school district told us that we could go to the food bank to collect food, and that’s when I met the Tzu Chi volunteers and received invaluable assistance, as well as a bamboo bank.” Armando brought a bamboo bank filled with spare change to express his gratitude and handed it back to the volunteers to help more people in need. He donated to transform the gratitude in his heart into great love and pass it on to more places.

Armando returns the bamboo bank as he came to winter distribution and shares his story and gratitude. Photo/Tina Tuan
Armando returns the bamboo bank as he came to winter distribution and shares his story and gratitude. Photo/Tina Tuan

Gathering Together and Showing Love

The volunteers invited Slava, a Ukrainian refugee, and his family, who participated in last year’s event, to this year’s distribution again. Slava dressed in a big red Christmas outfit and played Santa Claus for the second year in a row. He happily walked around the room and quickly became the special protagonist of this year’s event. As Santa Claus he took photos with each family, giving everyone a beautiful memory and a wonderful family photo. Slava was not only a member of a care recipient family, but also a messenger of love, sharing joy and gratitude with everyone who attended.

Slava, a Ukrainian refugee dressed as Santa Claus, takes photos with community members and volunteers. Photo/Steven Chiu

Each family received a thoughtful gift handpicked by volunteers. The gifts and supplies distributed to the families were purchased one and a half months ago by volunteers. The supplies and gifts included 105 carefully selected winter coats of all sizes and colors, with consideration for the favorite designs of each individual, along with a gift bag for each family containing a small electric heater and a dharma item, conveying the warmth of the volunteers’ blessings and sincerity for the care recipient families.

The gifts are tokens of affection and carry the good wishes of the volunteers for the care recipient families. Photo/Tina Tuan

Through this winter distribution, care recipients and their families received moral support and community strength, helping them no longer feel lonely and helpless. Neighbors and friends in the community have established deep bonds, bringing more positive energy to the area. The communal atmosphere makes everyone feel like a warm family, and each person in the happy community of East Palo Alto is empowered to pursue joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction and all see the hope for more happiness in the future.

Volunteers spare no effort selecting and wrapping gifts for each family, infusing them with care and kindness. Photo/Ping Liao
Volunteers spare no effort selecting and wrapping gifts for each family, infusing them with care and kindness. Photo/Ping Liao

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