Written by Qihua Luo
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
On October 8, 2022, Pine Island was opened for the first time since Hurricane Ian overwhelmed parts of Florida’s western coast. At the time, a Tzu Chi disaster assessment team entered the island to assess needs, and volunteers discovered that many community residents lost their means of transportation due to the storm’s damage. Hoping to provide effective care and relief, Tzu Chi volunteers visited Pine Island Community Church on October 29, holding two hurricane relief distributions for survivors.
The hard-hit Pine Island community is slowly recovering one month after the disaster. The damage to homes had been shocking to witness on both sides of the road, but lanes are no longer blocked, and decorations celebrate the coming holidays.
Two Teams Reach Farther
Nineteen volunteers from New York, Chicago, Houston, and North Carolina gathered at the Pine Island Community Church just after 9:00 AM. The volunteers split into two teams after setting up the site, one team taking care of the morning distribution, while the second team traveled to the Palms at Pine Island, a neighborhood located in Bokeelia, FL.
It was still warm in Florida in October, and many survivors arrived before 10 AM, waiting patiently for the event to begin. As they waited, Tzu Chi volunteers prepared a Jing Si Aphorism game, inviting each guest to select a rolled quote and read it aloud, filling the scene with joy and care.
Meanwhile, Tzu Chi Southern Region Executive Director Sean Luo led another group of volunteers to the Palms of Pine Island. The Palms at Pine Island is a small neighborhood whose residents desperately needed assistance, as they could not seek help from official agencies after the disaster. Following several assessments, Tzu Chi volunteers arranged to distribute supplies and cash cards as soon as possible.
The team had split into two groups, visiting impacted households to assess their situation and complete applications for relief. After reviewing the forms and finalizing the application process, Tzu Chi volunteers quickly informed disaster survivors of an upcoming distribution at the Pine Island Community Church.
The afternoon’s distribution was a success, with all 32 households arriving to receive their cash cards. Tzu Chi Southern Region Executive Director Sean Luo was relieved upon witnessing their guests’ delighted expressions.
The World Is Full of Love
Michael and Penny Salemme came across Tzu Chi’s disaster relief program on Facebook. They registered their information, but were hesitant to get their hopes up. When they went to the site, however, they were sincerely moved.
For many Hurricane Ian survivors living in the Palms at Pine Island, English isn’t their first language. Twin sisters Marvveli and Lonelli, who are bilingual in Spanish and English, and a young mother named Citlali, readily extended their aid to Tzu Chi volunteers as volunteer translators. Together, the team assisted with forms and guided survivors through receiving relief. Tzu Chi volunteers were deeply touched to hear that Marvveli and Lonelli shared an interest in future volunteer work, and they look forward to seeing the sisters again.
Enthusiastic volunteers Changdong Jiang and Shanshan Jiang were always within view at the distribution’s verification desk. They traveled from New York to take part in the relief event, and unfailingly responded with a sincerity that’s hard to forget.
Zhenyong Li, who traveled from North Carolina, was deeply affected by the volunteer experience during Tzu Chi’s 2012 Hurricane Sandy relief. When he heard about Hurricane Ian, he signed up without hesitation, marking his third Tzu Chi disaster relief mission. He expressed that he was glad to be here for survivors, no matter the distance, for indeed, compassion knows no borders and no end.