Inclement Weather Won’t Stop Tzu Chi’s Food Aid in Washington D.C.

Greater Washington D.C.  |  February 25, 2021
Despite heavy rain, Tzu Chi volunteers in Washington D.C. hold their first food distribution during the pandemic. Photo/Wendy Tsai

Written by Eric Tang
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

As morning broke on August 29, 2020, dark clouds already covered the skies over Washington D.C., and shortly after, as predicted in the weather forecast, heavy rain began to fall, quickly accumulating on the ground as the torrent increased in intensity. Thankfully, Tzu Chi USA’s Greater Washington D.C. Region volunteers assembled at the site of a food distribution they had planned for that day had come prepared. Quickly donning raincoats and holding up umbrellas, they began the event at the scheduled time.

The Greater Washington D.C. Region volunteers were continuing their mission of care for low-income families, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, Tzu Ching, or Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association, members had planned and organized this food distribution event in the Ward 7 neighborhood of the nation’s capital. The young volunteers have been participating in many Tzu Chi activities in the D.C. area for some time.

“In the past, we used to provide breakfast at homeless shelters in the Washington area every week. However, due to the pandemic, we couldn’t distribute breakfast like before,” Stephanie Shao explained. She is an alumnus of Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association and led Tzu Ching’s team serving their community that day. Stephanie also acknowledged the cooperation and support Tzu Chi was receiving in its charity efforts:

I’m grateful to collaborate with other organizations in Washington D.C. to distribute masks and related medical supplies to medical institutions in nearby communities such as Unity Health Care. We’re also very happy to learn more about the needs in other regions, especially Ward 7 in the District of Columbia.

A team of Tzu Ching volunteers unloads food supplies before the start of the distribution event. Photo/Wendy Tsai
According to a prearranged plan, volunteers wearing traffic control vests direct the flow of cars to the distribution station. Photo/Wendy Tsai

Preparations for this food distribution involved nearly two months of communication back and forth with local government contacts. While Tzu Chi has held food distributions in Silver Spring, Maryland, and low-income communities in Virginia, this distribution would be their first in Washington, D.C.  Although the weather was far from ideal on August 29, the date preselected for the event – since the tail end of Hurricane Laura was still impacting the region that day – the distribution went ahead according to plan. 

Ignoring the rain, after arriving at the distribution site before the start of the event, the volunteers began by unloading and arranging the food supplies. Irwin Royster, Director of Partnerships and Community Engagement at the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative Inc., had informed residents that the distribution would proceed even in the rain, so they were on their way. Tzu Chi worked together with the organization while planning and organizing this event.

Tzu Chi volunteers and Irwin Royster (right), Director of Partnerships and Community Engagement at the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative Inc., compare their lists of recipients expected at the distribution. Photo/Wendy Tsai
Frank Chen (left), Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Greater Washington D.C. Region, explains the origins of Jing Si Instant Rice and how to cook it to Irwin Royster (right) from the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative Inc. Photo/Wendy Tsai

Finally, as care recipients began to arrive, the Tzu Ching volunteers were fully prepared to receive them and most glad to help these struggling families by providing free food at this most challenging time. The rain had started gradually near the start of the event. However, the intensity escalated quickly with each passing minute, and the plastic raincoats the volunteers wore also intensified the heat that day. And yet, the volunteers mostly ignored the temperature and downpour.

Grant Joe, a University of Maryland student, didn’t appear to feel any inconvenience, his focus firmly on the needs of care recipients.

It’s pretty hot and rainy today, but I’m glad I’m here to see everyone and that we all managed to come out. There’s some heavy lifting, but I’m glad we managed to pull through. We managed to distribute a lot of food to a lot of families today.

A Tzu Ching volunteer serves care recipients patiently and respectfully, ignoring the relentless rain. Photo/Wendy Tsai
A Tzu Ching volunteer loads food into care recipient's cars, notwithstanding the constant beat of rain on his flimsy plastic coat. Photo/Wendy Tsai

Eighty percent of the families on the distribution list came to get the free food supplies. As the event was drawing to a close, the rain finally relented, and the sun began to emerge. Some care recipients were late due to the weather, yet the team was still on hand to serve them. 

Katherine Luo, also a student at the University of Maryland, saw a senior in a wheelchair and rushed over to assist him. As she was running around helping everyone, a mask covering her lower face, one could still intuit a smile beneath as she exclaimed, “It’s nice to see that everyone is helping those in need without any interruption and taking necessary preventive actions.”

Katherine Luo rushes to assist a senior in his wheelchair and asks if he needs any help. Photo/Wendy Tsai

By the end of the distribution event, a total of 36 households had received Tzu Chi USA’s charity aid at this first food giveaway in Washington D.C. However, the team’s work was not over yet. Next, the volunteers accompanied Irwin Royster to bring the essential food supplies to seniors who couldn’t come to the distribution site. 

They drove to two senior residence centers served by the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative Inc. to deliver food bags and masks. At the first stop, the seniors were looking forward to their arrival, knowing they would come. As the staff called residents, who then came to pick up the supplies, Frank Chen introduced Tzu Chi’s philosophy and missions to everyone, paving the way for a lasting connection.

The Tzu Chi team and Irwin Royster (back row, first left) take a group photo outside the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative Inc.’s offices. Photo/Wendy Tsai
A seniors home resident receives masks from a Tzu Ching volunteer. Photo/Wendy Tsai

At the second senior home, the volunteers had the opportunity to deliver the food bags directly to the door of each resident’s room, one by one. Some Tzu Chi team members were the children or siblings of older volunteers, which was an added delight for the residents, some exclaiming, “Hi there baby, how are you?” when they opened their door. The kids would then give them the bag of food and masks, happily announcing, “We got a little gift for you!”

Two young Tzu Chi volunteer team members bring food bags directly to the door of each resident’s room. Photo/Wendy Tsai

By the end of this mission of love, executed jointly by the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative Inc. and Tzu Chi USA, it was clear that the two organizations’ united efforts were forging a wonderful recipe for future community support initiatives.

We’re happy to have this partnership today so we can better administer food to our residents. So, this is great. The Tzu Chi Foundation, I learned a lot today about your organization.

In others’ eyes, August 29 may have been a miserable day, one on which to stay comfortably at home, avoiding the rain as Hurricane Laura was dissipating in the area. But in the eyes of Tzu Chi and Tzu Ching volunteers, it was a perfect and precious day, despite the inclement weather, as dozens of underserved families and seniors received love and care. Rain or a pandemic won’t stand in the way if you set your heart on helping those in need.

August 29 marks an excellent joint aid effort by Tzu Chi USA and the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative Inc. Photo/Wendy Tsai
A multi-generational Tzu Chi team serves at the food distribution, helping families in need, rain or shine. Photo/Wendy Tsai

The seeds of blessings must be sowed whenever their fruits are harvested to ensure that the virtuous cycle continues indefinitely.

You, too, can join our family of care by supporting Tzu Chi USA’s missions.

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