Tzu Chi Reunites With RCMA for October Upcoming Ian Relief Event in Florida’s DeSoto County

Southern  |  October 13, 2022
Tiare, a Hurricane Ian survivor, takes in the damages to her home and front yard in Arcadia, Florida, on October 11, 2022. Photo/Qihua Luo

Written by Qihua Luo
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto 

Tzu Chi will conduct its first distribution of relief supplies for Hurricane Ian survivors in DeSoto County, Florida, on the morning of October 15, 2022. With this, 94 care recipient families of Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) will receive essential supplies from Tzu Chi.

Tzu Chi Southern Region Executive Director Sean Lo confirms the distribution site layout in Arcadia, Florida, on October 11, 2022. Photo/Qihua Luo

To ensure that the October 15 distribution will run as smoothly as possible, a team led by Tzu Chi Southern Region Executive Director Sean Lo drove to the RCMA Arcadia Child Development Center early in the morning to check out the site, and confirm all of the details.

RCMA Reunites With Tzu Chi

RCMA Arcadia Child Development Center, in Arcadia, Florida, on October 11, 2022. Photo/Qihua Luo

Founded in 1965, RCMA is a recognized role model in care for children and parents, making the dreams of children in migrant farm working and low-income families their focus. Concerned about children who were spending all day in South Florida’s vegetable fields and the harsh, sometimes deadly environments these children had to endure, early RCMA members were determined to act. Today, RCMA operates 66 child care centers, 19 partner family child care homes, two charter schools, and several afterschool programs in 21 Florida counties. RCMA takes a holistic approach that cares for the entire child and their unique individual situations. That also means RCMA strives to ensure anything that impacts a child’s learning is taken care of, from early childhood education, to health care assistance, to supplying WiFi hotspots and tablets for homework. 

RCMA’s relationship with Tzu Chi began with Hurricane Irma in 2017, when Tzu Chi reached out to RCMA’s Corporations and Foundations Development Associate, Mr. Jay Robison, and the two organizations began working together.

Hurricane Ian’s powerful winds knock down trees in Arcadia, Florida. Photo taken on October 11, 2022. Photo/Qinhua Luo

RCMA’s care recipient families were affected to varying degrees by the disaster. Most families lost power, and food and water supplies also became a concern. To help families, RCMA developed a food and water supply plan for the next 12 weeks. In order to achieve this on a larger scale, Mr. Robison wrote to Tzu Chi for support.

Tzu Chi responded immediately. After consulting with RCMA, it was unanimously decided to distribute their care in the DeSoto County area, which had experienced flood damage due to the hurricane. After receiving the relief list, Tzu Chi prepared the supplies without delay, setting October 15 as the distribution date.

Assessment Continues in DeSoto County

Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region Executive Director Sean Lo, and volunteer Shuyi Bai, meet with RCMA’s Gloria Padilla, Hilaria Cuevas, and Irma Chappa, on October 11, 2022, in Arcadia, Florida. Photo/Qinhua Luo

At RCMA’s Arcadia Child Development Center, the assessment team was warmly received by Gloria Padilla, RCMA Community Relations Manager, and staff members Hilaria Cuevas and Irma Chappa.

Gloria Padilla provides an interview at RCMA’s Arcadia Child Development Center on October 11, 2022. Photo/Qinhua Luo

Gloria Padilla has been working with RCMA for 14 years. When speaking about the emergency disaster relief cash cards Tzu Chi provides, tears sprang to her eyes. “They don’t even have money to buy medicine,” she said. “These few hundred dollars can help them solve so many problems.”

Tiare and Marisol, family support workers at the Child Development Center, also invited the volunteers to visit their homes, which Hurricane Ian damaged to varying extents.

Tiare shows her home to Tzu Chi volunteers in Arcadia, Florida, on October 11, 2022. Photo/Qinhua Luo
Tiare stands in front of her home in Arcadia, Florida, on October 11, 2022. Photo/Qinhua Luo

This is the second time a hurricane has damaged Tiare’s home. She moved here in 2005 after experiencing Hurricane Charley in 2004. Her house was damaged in many places, but she said she is fortunate to have a job and homeowner’s insurance. “I’m sad, but I’m lucky compared to the families RCMA has helped,” she expressed.

Tzu Chi volunteers visit RCMA family worker Marisol’s home in Arcadia, Florida, on October 11, 2022. Photo/Qinhua Luo
Marisol shows the plastic-covered roof to Tzu Chi volunteers in Arcadia, Florida, on October 11, 2022. Photo/Qinhua Luo

Marisol lives in a three-bedroom home with her parents, brother, and three cats. The hurricane blew off the roof of the house, and they had to cover it with plastic for the time being. Marisol’s mother also works for RCMA as a teacher. The family’s greatest wish for the near future is to move into a slightly bigger house. At the moment, there’s not much they need immediately aside from roof repairs.  

Discarded flood-damaged furniture is arranged outside in Arcadia, Florida, on October 11, 2022. Photo/Qinhua Luo

After leaving the Child Development Center, the assessment team traveled around the neighborhood to further document the disaster’s impact. As they passed by one house, a woman piled flood-damaged furniture outside, trying to arrange them in a neat and orderly manner. The woman greeted the volunteers, and after hearing the team’s intentions for the community, she invited them inside. As she walked, she lamented that it was such a cozy house. Now, the floor and walls had all been torn down due to flooding from the hurricane. Tears began to fill her eyes as she told the team that she didn’t know how she was going to live in the future, but still believed everything would get better, little by little.  

As the volunteers were readying to leave, they saw a sign that read “Home, Sweet Home” hanging by the entrance. “I put it up to remind myself to be hopeful, to stay happy,” she said. 

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