Tzu Chi’s Disaster Relief Efforts Find Indiana After Tornado

Midwest  |  April 15, 2024
Aerial view of the disaster area. Photo/Dennis Lee

Written by Shangyu Dai
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrew Larracuente

 The central part of the United States is flat and vast, which makes the central states of Indiana, Ohio, and Oklahoma tornado-prone areas. Many local homes have underground shelters in their garages. Such shelters are narrow and small and can only accommodate several people. However, they provide people with life-safety protection when a tornado strikes. Families without such amenities either choose to take shelter in a bathroom tub or drive to a public shelter. 

Overnight, the home was destroyed.
Homes were destroyed overnight. Photo/Dennis Lee

Severe tornadoes struck the states of Indiana and Ohio on March 13-15, 2024, causing three deaths and extensive damage. Many homes were uprooted by the tornadoes, leaving only ruins, and the survivors lost everything overnight, let alone being homeless.

Volunteers are providing disaster relief to affected families in Winchester.
Volunteers were assessing homes in Winchester for disaster relief. Photo/Tony Cheng
The entire roof was swept away by the tornado, and the victims had to replace the roof with plastic.
The entire roof was swept away by the tornado, so the survivors had to use plastic to replace the roof. Photo/Tony Cheng

The day after the disaster, Tzu Chi Midwest, Indianapolis Service Center volunteers immediately contacted the local Red Cross and launched a series of disaster relief efforts. On April 6, the Indianapolis Service Center and Dayton Service Center teamed up to hold a disaster distribution in Winchester, Indiana. Every household affected by the disaster received a $1000 cash card and eco-friendly blankets, helping with their immediate needs.

Instant On-site Disaster Assessment

Right after the tornado had passed, Zhihong Hsu, head of the Tzu Chi Service Center in Indianapolis, immediately organized a three-person team to assess the disaster area on March 16. Zhihong Hsu said, “We learned about the tornado on the news the day after, and we organized a three-person team and contacted the local Red Cross. With permission from the government, we came with the Red Cross to carry out the disaster relief.”

To make sure that the donations from the charitable people could reach the survivors in need, Tzu Chi Indianapolis Service Center volunteers worked together with the local Red Cross to conduct door-to-door visits. “We went to the affected areas, did some visits, and confirmed the number of affected households with the Red Cross,” Zhihong Hsu explained. After half a month of tireless work, the disaster relief roster was finalized, laying a solid foundation for Tzu Chi volunteers to distribute supplies.

With Three-Party Cooperation, Care Arrived Instantly

Volunteers load supplies into trucks.
Volunteers loading supplies onto cars. Photo/Tony Cheng

On the evening of April 5, when people went home from work to spend the weekend with their families, 13 volunteers from Tzu Chi Midwest carried the relief supplies to their cars. The team departed from Chicago Jing Si Hall, traveled eastward with the golden sunset, and finally arrived at the hotel in Muncie around 11:00 p.m. After a night of rest, Tzu Chi Midwest volunteers visited the disaster area at dawn to assess the disaster. In the region, there was a heartbreaking scene with trees leaning and houses in ruins. Even though the sky was clear, the scene was like an inferno.

On the evening of April 5, volunteers from the Chicago branch went to Winchester with supplies.
Tzu Chi Midwest volunteers headed to Winchester with supplies on the evening of April 5th. Photo/Tony Cheng
Victims arrived at the scene one after another.
Disaster survivors arrived at the site. Photo/Tony Cheng

On April 6, 26 volunteers from Tzu Chi Midwest, Indianapolis Service Center, and Dayton Service Center arrived at the Winchester distribution site, bringing together the power of love and care for the survivors.

At around 12:30 p.m. on that day, the survivors who received the distribution notification arrived at the distribution site one after another, signed in, and took their seats with the assistance of Tzu Chi volunteers. Tzu Chi volunteers then introduced the history of Tzu Chi to the survivors and read aloud a letter by Master Cheng Yen. When they heard the love and care in the letter, many survivors could not help but burst into tears and embraced each other as they cried. After watching the movie and learning about the origin and history of Tzu Chi, Brenda Sarah was in awe and said with tears in her eyes, “There is no doubt. When I first saw people putting coins into that bamboo bank, they probably weren’t rich. But whatever they had, they were willing to give.”

CEO Xie Chongfu stepped forward to greet the victims warmly.
Executive Director Chong Hsieh warmly greeted the survivors. Photo/Tony Cheng

To make the survivors feel that they are not alone and that Tzu Chi volunteers are willing to stand by them through thick and thin when they are in trouble, Tzu Chi volunteers sang the sign language song One Family together with the survivors. The warm melody lingered long in the venue and cleansed people’s souls. “When we sang, I felt the love from everyone,” said Linda Brown, a disaster survivor, who was touched to the point she was choked up.

To restore hope to the survivors, Executive Director Chong Hsieh encouraged everyone by saying, “The tornado may destroy our homes, but it will not destroy our spirits.” At the same time, Tzu Chi volunteers listened to every one of the survivors and shared with them how they could proceed stronger. Mary Schnee Phil shared that this was the first time in her life that she felt so cared for and was amazed. She said, “It was beyond my comprehension because I’ve never received so much care before.” This warmth and care gave her the strength to live again!

Right at the time when Cathy Brown’s mother had just outlived cancer and was finally getting her life back on track, the tornado swept away her house overnight. Cathy, who has been hit hard by successive tornadoes, cried aloud in front of the volunteers. She thanked Tzu Chi for the help she received, saying, “This is a blessing. We need help. We have lost a lot of things. This will help us pay our utility bills, turn on services for our new home, and pay our rent. This is a tremendous help to us.”

The victims were touched by the spirit of the bamboo tube.
Disaster survivors were touched by the spirit of the bamboo bank. Photo/Tony Cheng
Tzu Chi volunteers took photos with the victims.
Tzu Chi volunteers posed for a group photo with the survivors. Photo/Dennis Lee

Many disaster survivors there found it hard to believe they could receive a thousand-dollar cash card. In addition to the cash cards, Tzu Chi also provided the survivors with blankets and scarves made from recycled materials and vegetarian food from the Jing Si Store. Tzu Chi volunteers hoped these supplies could help the survivors through the cold month of April and bring them a beam of hope to get through this challenging time!

I love working with Tzu Chi USA. They provide services differently to those affected by the disaster, including financial gifts but also the hope and light that are given to those affected by these terrible disasters.

After the distribution, the survivors asked for a group photo with Tzu Chi volunteers. Let love break through the tribulations of life. When the sky clears up after a rainy day, the dark clouds will disperse on their own, and the cloudy sky will be filled with bright sunshine. With love in their hearts, Tzu Chi volunteers will keep striving, and together, they will paint a rainbow of compassion.

More News Stories