Written by Arthur Lai, Ren Liu
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Maggie Morgan
On the morning of July 30, 2022, volunteers had an out-of-the-ordinary appointment. They were invited to visit the home of a special member of Tzu Chi’s community, George Hardwick. George regularly purchases food supplies to donate to Tzu Chi’s Phoenix Service Center, and he invited the team to come to check out his food bank.
Volunteers first were met with neatly organized bags, ready to be donated to Tzu Chi. Before that day, George had always driven to the Center to drop off supplies himself. He explained that in addition to Tzu Chi, he had other charitable organizations on his list of regular stops.
George, who lives alone, is a social worker at the Jewish Family & Children Service in Phoenix. His income is average and his life is modest, and George likes it that way. He keeps things simple, with no smartphone or internet setup, but he keeps himself busy with opportunities to volunteer and help others.
George guided the volunteers to visit a room filled with items, which he calls his “food bank”; there’s a large variety of canned goods, cereal, rice, noodles, peanut butter, beverages, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and other products. Tall storage racks are categorized and purposefully stacked. George hung the Tzu Chi logo backpack on his wall as a meaningful decoration for the space.
He told the volunteers that he always buys dry food that can be stored in large quantities when the supermarket has deals. Just like the spirit of Tzu Chi’s Bamboo Bank, he adds consistently, accumulating a significant amount over time. Every couple of months, George donates the materials to recognized charities. He tirelessly re-stocks his collection, making it as large and diverse as possible.
When the Phoenix Service Center receives George’s donations, they go to an assigned space aptly named “George Storage Room.” When volunteers prepare to distribute boxes, they use the materials donated by George to make up for any shortages of food bank supplies.
Bamboo Banks Stuffed with Banknotes
When George arrives at the Center with food stuffed into every space of his car, the volunteers think of the ox carts in the Taiwanese countryside. The scene of a fully loaded, stacked cart is both amazing and moving. George never wants to be named nor wants a receipt, displaying an attitude of giving without asking anything in return.
After visiting George’s food bank, the volunteers couldn’t help but ask him how much food he had donated during the pandemic in 2021. He said his donations totaled about $4,700. But, because he always keeps an eye out for specials, the cost sans discount would have been about $7,000.
In a corner of the room, the volunteers saw a Tzu Chi Bamboo Bank filled to the brim with cash. At first glance, it appears to be a single dollar, but with a closer look, it’s incredible to see that the rolls are one after another. After tallying George’s last Bamboo Bank donation, the total came to more than $800. His giving knows no bounds, and it’s truly remarkable how one man’s kindness can go so far.
Buddhism, Books, and a Beloved Tradition
George is a devout Buddhist; he welcomed volunteers into the room where he usually meditates and prays. On the ceiling is a cosmic star map drawn by George’s daughter. There are countless Buddha statues and books throughout the space, among which is an entire row of literature by Master Cheng Yen. George prominently displayed the books he purchased at the Tzu Chi Las Vegas Service Center, and “The Sutra of Infinite Meanings” gifted by Ren Liu, the manager of Tzu Chi Phoenix Service Center.
He said that he had studied each and every book, and enjoyed traveling to Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia to gain insight and knowledge. During his trips, he makes a point to buy some statues of Buddha or Bodhisattva to add to his spiritual space.
The good karma between George and Tzu Chi can be traced back to eight years ago before he even knew about Tzu Chi’s Service Center in Phoenix. George said, “I’d been looking for a charitable organization that matches my expectations. The Phoenix Chinese Week festival that year was held at the Phoenix Chinese Cultural Center. I came across a Tzu Chi booth in the square and stopped to buy a few books; When I went to the Chinese supermarket in the Phoenix Chinese Cultural Center, I saw Tzu Chi’s literature, magazines and other items on display, so I picked up some books and magazines that I became attached to.” Unaware that the Tzu Chi Phoenix Service Center had a Tzu Chi Jingsi Bookstore, he drove five hours to Las Vegas just to buy more Tzu Chi books.
A Mission That Resonated
Since learning about Tzu Chi, George found a deep connection to the organization’s mission; he not only picked up Bamboo Banks, but also participated in Buddha Bathing Ceremonies and fundraising dinners. George’s daughter, who is very artistic, joined her father’s dedication. She used oil paints to commemorate the Tzu Chi logo and sent it to the Phoenix Service Center to display.
One day, when George was leaving the Tzu Chi Phoenix Service Center, he suddenly realized that the charity was also a food bank. George remembered, “As soon as I thought about it, I decided to start donating food. I’m so happy to see the happy smiles from these families who come to pick up the food boxes they need, and even more delighted to hear that they have benefited from the items I donated. “
“I remember one day, when I brought food to Tzu Chi, I happened to meet a lady who came to collect the food boxes. Since there was only one volunteer present, the lady offered to help unload the cargo with me; she was happy to get an extra jar of parmesan salad dressing that I brought. Even though a jar of salad dressing didn’t seem like a big deal, in the cycle of love relay, it means a lot.” George said, “I am willing to help with all of Tzu Chi’s different programs: emergency relief, village resettlement, free medical clinics, etc. Tzu Chi is a very enticing organization.”
After visiting George’s home, it took a while to load all of the materials that George wanted to donate to Tzu Chi. It seemed like second nature to come to George’s home to transport supplies; it was fostered from the trust, rapport, and solid friendship built after a long period of partnership. George’s story illustrates the spirit of Tzu Chi and its ever-widening circle of compassion. One story, one small instance, can begin a lifetime of love and kindness between Tzu Chi, its volunteers, its donors, and its beneficiaries. The ways in which the organization grows close to those it works with is truly extraordinary, and a testament to the profound impact that human connection can have on the world.