Tzu Chi USA’s Service Center in St. Louis, Missouri, offers floral arranging classes that create wonderful connections between Tzu Chi volunteers and their students, which can blossom in unexpected ways. During one class, the volunteers played a video of a Life Wisdom lecture by Dharma Master Cheng Yen. It was before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, when the outbreak had just begun, and Master offered this guidance:
In dealing with the current virus outbreak. The best approach is to use wisdom, love, and selfless willpower, people who need to be isolated should self-isolate from others. This is to show love for themselves and others. This is being selfless. Everyone should unite as one and cooperate together. Also, we need to be sincerely pious and vigilant. Abstain from eating meat, speak good words, do good deeds, and make good vows. We need to be one mind and stop killing. Killing lives and eating meat only satisfy our cravings momentarily… It is best to promote vegetarianism.
After the class, one student, Jeanette McDermott, approached Tzu Chi volunteer Beajia Laschober, who was teaching that day, and expressed how much she appreciated the logic in Master Cheng Yen’s advice, sharing that she is vegan as well, so the message truly resonated with her.
Beajia invited Jeanette to the St. Louis Service Center for tea, and the two soon got to know each other better. As Beajia remembers, “We had a good talk and learned from each other. I shared stories about Tzu Chi. I also mentioned that we distributed PPE [personal protective equipment] to St. Peter’s Basilica in Italy. [Jeanette] was very surprised and said that she is currently working for the Catholic Church, and is a writer.”
Jeanette McDermott is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America, an order of Catholic Sisters. And, her meeting Beajia Laschober would soon greatly benefit the sisters in the order.
Not long after, the floral arranging classes were interrupted, as the gravity of the COVID-19 outbreak deepened. Tzu Chi USA began distributing PPE nationwide, in St. Louis as well. As she did her outreach to ascertain community needs, Beajia called Jeannette and asked her if she or her colleagues needed some masks. In fact, they did, and very much so. Jeanette tells the rest of the story, in an article she wrote for Items of Interest, the monthly newsletter for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America:
Love From One Sister to Another: Tzu Chi Provides Masks to Sisters of the Good Shepherd
I know the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, started by Dharma Master Cheng Yen, a Buddhist nun, through floral arrangement classes I take at Tzu Chi USA’s St. Louis Service Center. The classes are currently postponed because of COVID-19. But, when Tzu Chi began making masks to protect people around the world, its volunteers in St. Louis called me and asked if any Sisters of the Good Shepherd would benefit from having masks, I said “yes!”
Within two weeks, Tzu Chi St. Louis volunteers had boxed dozens of packages of masks for the Good Shepherd Sisters. Each packet contained 20 masks. Having the masks made it possible for Good Shepherd Sisters at Mason Pointe Care Center to leave the confines of their rooms after being quarantined in them for three weeks.
With protective masks to protect themselves and others from the virus, the Sisters were free to pray in the Good Shepherd Chapel, walk the halls for exercise, and visit one another while maintaining social distancing. The masks also gave Sisters in Cincinnati peace of mind, knowing they were taking measures to protect themselves and others at Margaret Hall and Beechwood.
The Sisters there had also been confined to their rooms without having masks to wear. The Sisters at the Province Center in Normandy have had more freedom; they authorized all Mission Partners to work from home at the earliest announcement of the coronavirus pandemic so that the Sisters could self-quarantine in the convent without the worry of outside influences. Sisters have been wearing masks when they leave the safety of the convent, even to collect the mail.
The United States now has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the world’s highest death toll from the virus. Taiwan, where Tzu Chi was founded, has been little affected by the virus. The nuns and volunteers in Taiwan felt concerned for people in the United States and other parts of the world and wanted to help by providing masks.
They made more than 12,000 masks for U.S. citizens and distributed them to people in St. Louis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation also made thousands of protective masks for Pope Francis and everyone who lives and works at the Vatican in Rome. In Chinese, “tzu” means compassion and “chi,” relief. For the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, relief from the Tzu Chi Foundation was an answered prayer.
The newly formed bond between Tzu Chi volunteers and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd will undoubtedly extend beyond the COVID-19 crisis, and continue to blossom. As Jeanette wrote to Beajia in an email of thanks, “The Catholic Sisters are so very grateful and feel that Tzu Chi is now a part of their world, certainly their prayer life.”
As for Beajia, she and other Tzu Chi St. Louis volunteers are eager for the floral arrangement classes to resume, so they can meet members of the community regularly once again, and witness the emergence of further connections and collaborations.
So far, Tzu Chi USA volunteers have distributed over 20,000 medical face masks in the St. Louis area and will continue to provide essential PPE for members of the community who need them. You can support their efforts by sending your love too.