Providing Masks to Protect Day Laborers and People With Chronic Illnesses in Los Angeles

National Headquarters  |  December 3, 2020
Tzu Chi volunteers hold a mask distribution for day laborers at the Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA). Photo/Jennifer Chien

Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

In the Wilmington community next to Long Beach Harbor in Los Angeles, California, many residents are day laborers who seek and obtain jobs daily, earning wages paid by the hour or day of work. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a stop to numerous businesses in this community in 2020.

As a result of these business interruptions or closures, many day laborers have lost their only income sources and are struggling financially. Moreover, many can’t afford to purchase essential personal protective supplies for themselves and their families. Tzu Chi USA has taken this population’s needs to heart and launched aid as necessary, providing free masks.

Wearing protective gear is also vital for those with chronic diseases, who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or developing complications. For this reason, Tzu Chi volunteers also mobilized to distribute medical masks at Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington to patients who face these health challenges.

Love and Care for Day Laborers

Tzu Chi USA’s Wilmington Community Clinic has been working closely with the Harbor City community and caring for low-income families in the area for a long time. The clinic also recently received a grant from the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation and decided to buy a batch of cloth and medical masks for day laborers and their families.

Huiping Wang, Wilmington Community Clinic’s Manager, shared that a team of Tzu Chi volunteers from Torrance, a city neighboring Wilmington, decided to collaborate with the Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA) on this mission of care.

The IDEPSCA has been a Tzu Chi USA friend for some time, so partnering on this venture was doable. And so, on August 28, IDEPSCA staff at the institute’s offices in Harbor City seized the opportunity to also provide cloth masks from Tzu Chi USA during the food distribution they had for day laborers that day.

When Tzu Chi volunteers arrived at the IDEPSCA location that morning, they saw a vinyl banner hanging on the wall of the shipping container that housed their offices, stating, “Hire Workers Here, Harbor City Community Job Center.” Inside, one could obtain information about jobs such as general labor, painting, construction, demolition, gardening, moving, unloading, cleaning, and repairs. This information source is of significant support to day laborers in the area.

At the same time, IDEPSCA staff and volunteers were busy packing fruits and vegetables for their food distribution, another form of aid IDEPSCA provides. Today, the families that came would also benefit even more, getting free masks from Tzu Chi USA to guard their health during the pandemic.

Volunteers arrive at the Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA) to set up a booth for mask distribution. Photo/Jennifer Chien
IDEPSCA staff and Tzu Chi volunteers pack fruits and vegetables for distribution at the Harbor City office of the educational institute. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Their Work Opportunities Have Dwindled Gravely

Daniel Chavez, a staff member at IDEPSCA, confirmed that since the start of COVID-19 safety measures in March, there are significantly fewer day job employment opportunities from small businesses. Therefore, with their income gone or gravely diminished, many day laborers must now actively seek support and resources elsewhere to survive. Thus, IDEPSCA distributes food every morning to low-income families in the community, preventing starvation for unemployed day laborers’ families.

And, Daniel pointed out that the situation is not improving: “Six months after the pandemic hit the United States, the available jobs still didn’t return to their normal demand.” He also elaborated, saying that on the one hand, employers have reduced day labor worker demands due to the economic downturn, while at the same time, some worry that day laborers may be unwittingly carrying and spreading COVID-19.

As a result, IDEPSCA staff need to call employers, earnestly requesting that they provide more job opportunities, while concurrently educating both workers and employers on essential preventive measures they need to practice. Tzu Chi USA’s provision of a large number of masks to IDEPSCA’s offices at this time is a significant help, as staff can then distribute them to workers’ families as well as employers.

The IDEPSCA office in Harbor City is inside a shipping container. Photo/Jennifer Chien
Daniel Chavez, an IDEPSCA employee, introduces the services the organization provides to Tzu Chi volunteers during the food and mask distribution. Photo/Jennifer Chien

It's great that you (Tzu Chi) have come to give away masks to the locals. This is very helpful for community health and safety.

Helping Them Be Able To Always Wear A Mask

Dora Ledo picks up cloth masks for herself and her family. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Dora Ledo, a local resident suffering due to the reduced income in her household since the pandemic, shared about her sense of helplessness with Tzu Chi volunteers, saying, “In the past, I could find home cleaning jobs or retail service jobs, but after the outbreak, I can’t work because I had to take care of my children at home.”

The financial constraints are making life difficult for the family, so Dora was very thankful for the free masks from Tzu Chi, since buying such protective gear is not always feasible on their budget. She was relieved that now she and her family can better protect themselves by always wearing a mask as per safety directives.

Tzu Chi volunteer Gloria Bautista (left) hands masks to Ramiro Carrillo (right), a local resident and day laborer. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Ramiro Carrillo, a local resident who chose to help out at the distribution, said that he usually works on construction sites and volunteers at IDEPSCA on days he doesn’t have a job. The pandemic has severely impacted his work opportunities though, and now he’s unemployed most of the time.

Ramiro lives in the United States by himself but sends money back home to his family in Mexico, so, unfortunately, his current situation casts a broader shadow. Nonetheless, the construction worker was grateful to receive the masks from Tzu Chi, since when he does work, it’s in a team, so the protective gear will help him feel safer.

Learning that Tzu Chi also holds food distributions, Priscilla Castellanos carefully reads the Tzu Chi introduction brochure in the bag with the masks she just received. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Another resident who received masks, Priscila Castellanos, is six months pregnant and said that although her husband occasionally gets a day job, his working hours have diminished significantly. Increasing the family’s financial strain, Priscilla lost her job due to the pandemic.

With another child at home, the family is cautious to avoid getting infected, and Priscilla rarely goes out. She was grateful to Tzu Chi for the masks since they will help protect the family while allowing them to allocate their meager income to purchase other essentials. As she was leaving the distribution, Priscilla was also encouraged to discover that Tzu Chi USA also provides food distributions, welcome assistance in the future.

Assisting Residents Living With a Chronic Disease

After the cloth mask distribution at the IDEPSCA location in Harbor City that morning was over, the participating volunteers rushed back to Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington to prepare for another distribution. They would be providing free medical masks specifically for residents who suffer from a chronic illness. Since they posted an announcement on social media two days before, they were expecting people to turn up.

Anabel Baraja, with her baby in her arms, came to pick up the medical masks with her mother-in-law after she got a reminder from a friend who works at the clinic. She said that many residents in this community suffer from pre-diabetes or diabetes, and her mother-in-law is also a pre-diabetes patient. Tzu Chi’s mask distribution can help protect her family’s health and safety, so she was most grateful for it.

Anabel Baraja (right), who came to Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington with her mother-in-law, receives medical masks and two boxes of fruits. Photo/Jennifer Chien
Since they are at the clinic often, Tzu Chi volunteers consider Albina Alejo and her sister Evangeline Lazzo as neighborhood friends. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Albina Alejo and her sister Evangeline Razo came together to pick up the free masks. There are 13 siblings in the family, and the sisters often come to Tzu Chi’s food distributions to receive fresh fruits and vegetables. As soon as these two sisters arrived, they greeted volunteers warmly and mentioned that another sister wanted to come too but had a dialysis appointment.

Almost all of Albina and Evangeline’s brothers and sisters have diabetes, so everyone is at higher risk of contracting the virus. Although they pay special attention to practicing preventive measures during the pandemic, many family members hardly leave home due to their fear. They only go to the kidney dialysis center, doctor visits, and to pick up essentials from Tzu Chi when available for distribution.

In fact, many who came to the distribution are frequent visitors of the community clinic and have grown to consider Tzu Chi volunteers as old friends.

Roberto Monro (left) stops by to visit Tzu Chi volunteers and to pick up free masks. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Roberto Monro is one good neighbor who visits the Tzu Chi Community Clinic in Wilmington often and is an old friend of the volunteers. Roberto said that he and his wife both have asthma, and he’s also diabetic. When he saw the message about Tzu Chi’s mask distribution on Facebook, he decided to come and get some, which allowed him to reconnect with the volunteers too.

Thank you for thinking of us and providing these essential supplies, especially during this time. It’s very helpful to us. I’m grateful that an organization like Tzu Chi is here to help our community. This is very important to us!

Local Support for Tzu Chi’s Aid Efforts

Tzu Chi volunteer William Levely (first left) and his wife, Connie Sun (second left), are always there to help at Tzu Chi’s community events in Wilmington. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Some who attended the distribution came to help, gladly serving their community. Local volunteers William Levely and his wife Connie Sun arrived at Tzu Chi Wilmington Community Clinic in advance of the distribution to assist during the event. William was well aware of Tzu Chi’s activities in the surrounding region.

For instance, he explained how volunteers often care for new immigrant families and day laborers in the community, as they did that morning, distributing masks in collaboration with IDEPSCA , a long-time partner. Since these families are typically on tight budgets, to save costs, many live in multi-household accommodations, sharing a rented house. Given their crowded living arrangements, providing these families with masks is crucial during the pandemic.

Another local volunteer, Gloria Bautista, had already participated in an aid event at a women’s center in the area early that morning, where she helped distribute food supplies. Afterward, she brought more than ten boxes of fruits that remained to Tzu Chi’s community clinic. As a result, those who attended the distribution there that afternoon were delighted to get free masks and a box of fruit to bring home.

Volunteer Gloria Bautista (right) helps residents pick up their masks and a box of fruit. Photo/Jennifer Chien

It was a blessed day for everyone who participated in Tzu Chi USA’s distributions in Harbor City and Wilmington on August 28, knowing they could benefit struggling families and residents who have chronic diseases by providing free masks and food.

And, Tzu Chi Community Clinic was at the heart of the aid initiatives that day. In fact, this clinic has made its home in the Wilmington community for nearly ten years, becoming a highly valued source of support for low-income households through food distributions, free medical consultations, and aid activities in collaboration with various community organizations.

In this neighborhood, as in others across the United States, community residents genuinely value Tzu Chi volunteers’ efforts, which they offer with love and respect. They know the volunteers will accompany them through the pandemic’s ups and downs, and together, they will make it through these challenging times as cherished friends.

You, too, can join this circle of care by supporting Tzu Chi USA’s ongoing aid efforts. Through our joint determination to help those suffering or in need, everything becomes possible, and no one gets left behind. Let’s banish negativity and despair and bring the light of hope wherever we tread going forward, together as one team.

To purify people’s hearts, one must give with a loving heart, guide with wisdom, and accompany with patience.

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