Written by Wan Ling Huang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane
The COVID-19 pandemic changed people’s lives, and charities also had to adjust how they interacted with those they serve. July 22, 2023, marked the end of drive-through distributions at Tzu Chi USA’s Cerritos Service Center, the method of helping the community during the health crisis. With the need for social distancing behind us, the volunteers returned to the face-to-face distribution style used before the pandemic. Residents pushed grocery carts to collect various kinds of food, fruit, and vegetables directly from long tables; volunteers and care recipients could again enjoy one another’s company, sing sign language songs together, and discuss care needs and living conditions.
More than 90% of the City of Huntington Park residents in Southern California’s Los Angeles County are low-income. Volunteers from the Cerritos Service Center have been conducting monthly fruit and vegetable distributions at the city’s Miles Avenue Elementary School since June 2017. Through the cooperation with the school, residents in need felt Tzu Chi’s care and love.
Happily Learning Sign Language Together
Early in the morning, neighborhood residents gathered at the distribution site, pushing grocery carts and forming a long line, all waiting to enter and begin the registration process. The face-to-face service that everyone knows and loves is back. Residents could enter the school, complete a simple registration form, sit comfortably under the open tent, and wait to receive food supplies. Before this, they had to sit and wait in their vehicles. Now that social distancing is no longer required, volunteers took the opportunity to help residents join the sign language song “Hello, hello.” At the same time, Tzu Shao (Tzu Chi Youth Group members), made handicrafts with kids who came with their parents to collect supplies.
Residents came prepared, bringing grocery carts from home, knowing they would receive more than 40 pounds of healthy, nutritious food, including canned food, rice, flour, nuts, beans, vegetables, and fruit.
Tzu Chi Cerritos Service Center volunteers arrived at the school early in the morning to start the final preparations for the distribution. They skillfully and quickly set up the long tables and arranged the supplies for distribution. Everyone was happy to return to the distribution style used before March 2020, which saved time and effort in the packing process and allowed for more interaction with community members.
Tzu Chi Cerritos volunteers suspended food distributions in March 2020 due to the severity of the pandemic. They were still aware of the community’s great need, which was even more acute during the crisis. To help people struggling to feed their families, volunteers adopted a drive-thru system on June 7, 2020, to continue distributing supplies while socially distanced and to help them get through the difficult times.
Tzu Chi Cerritos Service Center has been organizing the monthly distribution of fruit and vegetables at Miles Avenue Elementary School since 2016. Through the cooperation of the school, residents in need have felt Tzu Chi’s care and love for many years.
Nearly 300 Families Helped
During the brief opening ceremony before the distribution, volunteers invited Diana Espino, principal of Miles Avenue Elementary School, to give a speech: “Good morning. I’d like to welcome so many families to Miles Avenue Elementary School. We are honored. And I want to take the time to thank Tzu Chi for their food distribution in the community,” she said. She thanked Tzu Chi, neighborhood volunteers, the City Police Department, and the City Council for making the distribution possible.
Volunteers introduced Tzu Chi and the team in charge of the distribution and explained to the audience the meaning of Master Cheng Yen’s red packets that they would also get as a present, each conveying blessings and good wishes. Before the residents entered the site to receive food, they got a gift bag prepared by Tzu Chi volunteers, and the red packet was inside. The volunteers could not carry on this gift-giving tradition during the pandemic and were happy to resume it now.
Residents received free food at the long tables, and the volunteers greeted them warmly, filling the distribution site with mutual gratitude. The abundant distribution supplies included vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, rice, flour, and canned food. Volunteers tried to have a balanced nutritional profile when choosing the types of food, and each care recipient’s family could receive more than 40 pounds of food, causing the volunteers outside the hall to be constantly busy. These special helpers assisted residents with grocery carts by carrying the supplies to their vehicles, especially the seniors and community members with mobility difficulties who came. In total, nearly 300 families benefited from the distribution.
An Abundance of Gratitude
Marilu Rendon, a resident who came after seeing Tzu Chi’s distribution notice on Facebook, is thankful for the program since it helps many low-income families struggling financially. She found that the distribution service was fast, and the food provided was healthy and ample, enough to feed a family for several weeks.
Rafael and his family moved to the neighborhood more than seven months ago. He found out about the program through his daughter’s school. He thanked the Tzu Chi volunteers after receiving the food.
After hearing about the event from her mom, who volunteers at the school, Karla Caballero came to receive food for the first time. Diana Guzman, who has benefited from Tzu Chi’s food distributions many times, told the volunteers with tears in her eyes that this was a great help to her, as the supplies were enough to feed her family of five for two to three weeks, and that she was very thankful.
Tzu Chi volunteers saw each resident off at the exit, noting the date of the subsequent distribution, “The next time we meet will be on August 26. See you soon, take care!” In parting, the care recipients expressed their gratitude in Spanish and English, but their feelings extended beyond words: That’s the nature of love.