Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Gives Hope and Healing to Passaic Fire Survivors

Mid-Atlantic  |  December 19, 2022
The survivors were touched by Tzu Chi USA’s aid and hugged the Tzu Chi volunteers with gratitude. Photo/ Wankang Wang

Written by: Ivy Wong
Translated by: H.B. Qin
Edited by: Andrea Barkley

A fire broke out in the early morning of October 14, 2022, in an old apartment building in Passaic, northern New Jersey. Residents fled their homes in panic in the early morning. The fire did not cause any casualties, although it destroyed the building. However, the incident displaced 68 residents. The city and Red Cross provided temporary shelter for the survivors and invited Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region to assist.

Fire Showed No Mercy but Human Beings Did

Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region immediately went to assess the damage. It held an emergency meeting to discuss plans for emergency relief. Volunteers learned that Passaic is an underprivileged Latin American neighborhood with families living in small apartments. In the face of unstable weather conditions, the survivors’ lives are even more difficult. Considering the urgent needs of the survivors, Tzu Chi USA decided to participate in the Multi-Agency Resource Center’s (MARC) relief event on October 17, 2022, to provide timely assistance to the survivors.

Tzu Chi volunteers check the details of the list and the process before the distribution of relief supplies. Photo/ Wankang Wang

On the 17th, a group of eight Tzu Chi USA volunteers arrived early in the morning at the temporary shelter of the fire – the stadium of Muhammad Ali School No. 23 in Passaic to deliver care and supplies to the survivors. When the volunteers read to the survivors, “You are not alone” by the Master, the survivors could not help from shedding tears.

Volunteers read to the survivors a letter of from Master Cheng Yen. Photo/ Wankang Wang

Executive Director Chang Tzujin of Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region respectfully placed the cash cards raised from the global charity donations in the hands of the survivors and put the Tzu Chi USA blankets into the survivors’ backpacks. Although it was a small gesture, the warm and cordial interaction made the survivors deeply feel the respect and care of Tzu Chi USA volunteers. A young single mother with a child was thrilled and thankful after receiving help from Tzu Chi. She hugged the volunteers repeatedly with tears in her eyes. She expressed heartfelt emotion and gratitude with a tight hug.

Thanking Tzu Chi USA on Behalf of the City

Hector Lora, the mayor of Passaic, was there to help distribute supplies and said that the fire affected 68 residents, but thankfully there were no casualties. However, it is a big challenge to restore in a short time.

Mayor Hector Lora thanked Tzu Chi USA for helping the fire survivors.

Hector Lora, the mayor of Passaic, interacts with Tzu Chi USA volunteers. Photo/ Wankang Wang

"Tzu Chi USA provided us with timely and comprehensive assistance in the rescue operation after the fire. Not only did they provide material aid, but they also worked with government agencies and relief organizations to provide systematic assistance to the people.

According to Mayor Hector Lora, Tzu Chi USA was actively involved in the relief efforts after the fire. Also, it led volunteers to the site to help the affected families. “Your organization and volunteers were angels to the survivors, making them feel cared for and taken care of after the disaster. On behalf of the city of Passaic, I would like to thank Tzu Chi USA for the care and help you have given to the survivors and the city,” said Mayor Hector Lora.

In an interview, Walter I Porto, a firefighter, and member of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in Passaic thanked the Tzu Chi USA volunteers three times.

"Thank you for the help you provided to the survivors, what you did was significant and great. Tzu Chi USA is not only providing supplies to the survivors, but more importantly, giving them hope!

Tzu Chi volunteers discussed the disaster with the Red Cross and the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Photo/ Wankang Wang

Q. Montan, deputy superintendent of the city of Passaic and a firefighter, said: “For the people affected by the fire, it is very fortunate to have Tzu Chi USA’s help. The assistance of Tzu Chi USA is also critical to the city of Passaic. We are very grateful to various organizations and all people who helped the survivors, and we can’t thank them enough.”

The Eco-Friendly Blanket Was in the Spotlight

At the relief event, all eyes admired Tzu Chi USA’s eco-friendly blankets and the spirit of the bamboo banks, which also attracted media coverage. Tzu Chi USA volunteers proudly introduced the eco-friendly blankets made from recycled plastic bottles, wowed the survivors, and assisted organizations on site. In addition, the local community TV station TV 76 specifically reported the story of the eco-friendly blankets.

The advanced concept of Tzu Chi eco-friendly blankets attracted coverage from a local media. Photo/ Wankang Wang
Tzu Chi USA volunteers advocated spreading love with love, introducing the story of the bamboo banks, and converting admiration into action. Photo/ Wankang Wang

The volunteers also advocated spreading love through loving acts. They introduced the story of the bamboo banks. They encouraged the survivors to learn from the spirit of bamboo banking by saving 50 cents a day. They converted today’s admiration into action to help others with good deeds. Most affected families speak Spanish and do not know English, but they conveyed their heartfelt gratitude through the interpreters. Losing everything is like living in the dark. Although the shock has not yet subsided, they and their families will try to adapt to the difficult situation.

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