Tzu Chi Joins Hands to Provide Tornado Relief in Round Rock, Texas

Southern  |  June 29, 2022
On July 13, Tzu Chi USA held its monthly food distribution at Villacorta Elementary School in the Rowland Unified School District. Photo by Jennifer Chien.

Written by Fangwen Huang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On March 21–22, 2022, several tornadoes descended across Texas communities, significantly damaging homes, businesses, vegetation, and other structures, and snapping power poles, with more than 40,000 people facing power outages. 

At the Tzu Chi Austin Service Center, volunteers responded quickly, mobilizing to prepare disaster aid cash cards and eco-blankets for distribution at the United Heritage Center in Round Rock on March 25–26. The American Red Cross, local food banks, and additional relief organizations in Austin were also present to provide crucial services and support.  

Providing Essential Disaster Relief

Volunteers at the distribution site collaborate to gather information and confirm the updated list of affected households. Photo/Fangwen Huang

The day before the distribution, on March 24, volunteers traveled to the United Heritage Center to survey the distribution site. Daniel Geraci, founder and Executive Director of the Austin Disaster Relief Network (ADRN), graciously welcomed the volunteers and thanked Tzu Chi for their assistance. Mr. Geraci also readily explained what to do and expect on the day of the distribution. Volunteers additionally gathered further information, and confirmed the updated list of affected households in preparation for relief.

Assessment Begins After the Disaster

Volunteers visit impacted communities in-person to learn about the situation. Photo/Fangwen Huang
Tzu Chi USA Southern Region Executive Director Sean Lo (center) drives three hours from Houston to the distribution site to assist volunteers, and comfort tornado survivors at the distribution. Photo/Fangwen Huang

Afterward, a group of six volunteers walked to affected communities near the distribution site to inform survivors of the distribution over the weekend, while offering an attentive ear. 

Although located on the same streets, adjacent houses were each affected differently. Severely impacted homes were missing roofs, and vehicles were crushed; others saw the wooden or brick exteriors of houses crumple, fences and chimneys gone. Street lights and decades-old trees were uprooted and blown askew, some striking homes and garages. 

Debris was piled along the road, and great efforts were being made to clear the hazards away. Construction trucks, clean-up teams dispatched by the city government, and volunteers all lent a helping hand to speed up the process of tidying the community.

Great Love Sows Blessings

Lisa and her husband pick up an eco-friendly blanket and offer a donation via one of Tzu Chi’s bamboo banks, expressing that they felt blessed by the love of volunteers, their neighbors, and the entire community. Photo/Fangwen Huang

At the tornado relief distribution, Lisa and Nevin Mogford, a couple whose home was affected, described the sound of the tornado as being reminiscent of a subway station — but with many trains all hurtling by at once. There were glass shards everywhere, and the roof was gone. They’d hidden inside the bathroom, Nevin holding the door tightly shut.

“We sold our house not long ago,” said Lisa. “The delivery was scheduled for April 15, but now that the house is damaged, there’s no way to sell it. We bought the new trailer and planned to live in it after the house is sold. It was also blown over and destroyed by the strong winds. Now we’ve lost both our old home and new home.”

Even so, the Mogfords happily accepted an eco-blanket and offered a donation via one of Tzu Chi’s bamboo banks, expressing that they felt blessed by the love of their neighbors, Tzu Chi volunteers, and the community as a whole.

Continuing to Help

Tzu Chi volunteer Yijing Tsai shares a pamphlet of Jing Si Aphorisms from Dharma Master Cheng Yen with Darwin, a tornado survivor. Photo/Fangwen Huang
Tzu Chi volunteer Joel Peng (center) explains the meaning of the peace charm to Rose, who tells volunteers that she will hang it on her car to bring good luck. Photo/Fangwen Huang

Irma Ortega, a disaster survivor, did not plan to come to the distribution site, but the organizers encouraged her to meet with them. “We have lived in our house for 19 years and have never had a disaster like this before,” Irma explained with tearful eyes. “I don’t know what to do, but everyone here is so considerate; they cared for and helped us. I really never expected that. Especially you, [Tzu Chi], I was so touched by your warmth.” Irma also voiced her willingness to donate to Tzu Chi every month after settling down again.

Tzu Chi volunteer Yijing Tsai also shared a pamphlet consisting of 88 Jing Si Aphorisms from Dharma Master Cheng Yen with a tornado survivor named Darwin. 

“I usually help others in the community, but I never thought I would be helped by others, so it was hard to take,” Darwin said with emotion. Volunteer Fangwen Huang appreciated Darwin’s dedication to the community, and encouraged him to brave through this difficult time to continue helping others in the future.

Rose Cortez, another disaster survivor, has lived in Round Rock for forty years and faced the first natural disaster of this magnitude, saying, “I couldn’t even breathe; it was really scary when I think back. Because the tornado was so close to my house, it seemed like it was going to roll off my roof in a minute.”

Infinite Warmth and Blessings

A volunteer translator assists a family in filling out forms and describing the damage to their home. The volunteer, Andrew Liu, spoke with the family in Spanish, which he had studied for two years, hoping to help survivors feel heard. Photo/Fangwen Huang
Volunteer Mimi Lee comforts a disaster survivor with a hug. Photo/Fangwen Huang

A total of 18 volunteers participated in the two-day distribution event, and a total of 22 households were given $17,100 in cash cards. Each household received a blanket, a charm conveying blessings, a bamboo bank, and the boundless warmth of volunteers.

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