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