Written by Yungshih Huang, Chiuyueh Hung
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
On May 15, 2021, the weather in Raleigh, North Carolina, was pleasant, adding to the cheerful atmosphere as volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s Raleigh Service Center gathered in the parking lot of the Durham Rescue Mission’s homeless shelter for men at 10:15 in the morning.
They were there to provide hot meals and other community services. The 12 volunteers broke up into two groups: One would distribute hot meals, the other clean the streets near the men’s shelter area. Among them, some were serving at such a community event for the first time.
Jenna Schaeffer had previously volunteered in animal shelters and with the American Red Cross but not joined a meal service event before. Scott Lee, who usually participates in the Raleigh Service Center’s weekly English book study group, knew that such community service would demand labor, so he rolled up his sleeves and volunteered to help.
For others, it was a family affair as parents brought their kids to help out. Woonchoi Ho came with her husband, Phooiseng Lim, and their two children, Shenyang and Shenwey Lim, eager to serve the community. Calvin Kao and his kids Isabel and Rayan Kao were among those who took on sweeping the streets.
The arrival of the volunteers did not go unnoticed, either.
Mr. Randolph, who came to live in Durham Rescue Mission’s shelter nine months ago, took charge of leading the volunteers. He explained that the Durham Rescue Mission arranges seven to eight outdoor meal service events each year. Pointing to a prearranged table under a big tree and a grill, he said that was where the food would be grilled then distributed. The Rescue Mission estimated about a hundred people would come for the meal during lunchtime hours.
After Mr. Randolph finished his explanation, the volunteers got to work. They put packs of vegetarian hot dogs on the grill and prepared to distribute them in an orderly fashion. Once the hot dogs were ready, the volunteers would serve the care recipients waiting patiently in line one by one. Moreover, each volunteer was responsible for a specific task and was stationed in that area along the hot meal distribution process.
Yungshih Huang was in charge of handing out napkins and spoons. Jyhshing Chen was responsible for serving the buns, putting one on each plate. Scott Lee put a hot dog in the bun. Jenna Schaeffer added chili and coleslaw on each plate. Woonchoi Ho served drinks, and her kids, Shenyang and Shenwey Lim, gave a bag of potato chips to each person.
Once they got rolling, the non-stop meal service kept everyone busy and happy. Seeing the residents sitting in the outdoor picnic area enjoying a wonderful lunch under the blue sky and white clouds, all the volunteers felt satisfied, joyous, their hearts at peace for serving the community with love.
Shenyang and Shenwey Lim were participating in a hot meal distribution for the first time. Woonchoi Ho, their mom, said that she always wanted her kids to volunteer at Tzu Chi events. For a food distribution in April, the brothers each donated US$15 from their Lunar New Year allowance. Woonchoi used that money to buy pasta, pasta sauce, and cereals for the food distribution event.
When she got home, she showed the boys all the food obtained thanks to their donation, saying, “You can buy a lot of food for $15 and give them to those in need!” Usually, both brothers go to the Tzu Chi office on Saturdays for a Chinese class, so they can’t participate in community events that day. However, now that the semester is over, Woonchoi brought them with her to this hot meal distribution.
On the one hand, children can learn many things from volunteering. On the other hand, such volunteering can reduce the time they play video games at home. Additionally, participating in Tzu Chi’s activities plants the seeds of love and kindness in their hearts.
During this community service event, the boys helped distribute potato chips to the shelter residents who came to get a meal. Many came back to thank them afterward. The two brothers were genuinely happy to help others and want to participate in similar activities again when that opportunity arises.
While the meals were distributed by one part of the volunteer team, another was busy cleaning the streets, picking up trash and debris, including small nails and sharp objects by the roadside.
The team also found bottles, many with some liquid remaining inside, which had to be cleared before putting them in garbage bags. In addition, they collected a lot of cigarette butts, and small fragments of debris smashed up by a lawnmower. Although much of what was removed from the roads and sidewalks were small pieces of trash, Isabel and Rayan Kao picked them up with diligence and patience.
Their father, Calvin Kao, took the opportunity to share an analogy to teach his two children. He said, “Picking up trash is like clearing out the troubles in the mind. Big troubles are easy to see and be eliminated, but if they are crushed and become many small issues, then it will be difficult to clear out.”
The previous hot meal distribution on the premises of the Durham Rescue Mission was for the residents at their women’s shelter, and subsequent activities included a toy drive and food distribution in response to the pandemic. At each encounter between Tzu Chi volunteers and those the Durham Rescue Mission serves, loving connections are forged, transforming strangers into friends. Because after all, we are one family in this world.