Written by Jennifer Chien and Tom Chen
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
The number of COVID-19 confirmed cases continues to increase in the United States, the pandemic causing a second wave of closures in cities across the country. Many people thought they would be able to return to their normal lives after the three-month lockdown. However, the start of reopening in stages while the pandemic is still not under control backfired in many areas.
Workers whose jobs had already been detrimentally affected were discouraged, to say the least, while at the same time, many middle-class families also began to experience financial difficulties. Therefore, on July 31, Tzu Chi USA held a food distribution in the City of Diamond Bar, California, for the first time, focusing on seniors in the community.
The Impact of COVID-19 Reaches the Middle Class
On the east side of the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County, California, Diamond Bar is home to many families considered middle- to upper-middle-class. Statistics reveal that more than 40% of the residents here are White or Asian, with over 70% being highly educated. And yet, as the pandemic continued after three months of lockdown, the affluent Diamond Bar community also began to report the need for food, just as less privileged communities had for some time.
“The pandemic began in January, and various parts of the United States have been on lockdown since mid-March. As the pandemic prolongs, residents face more challenges one by one, and more people need food,” Jackson Chen, CEO of Tzu Chi USA, explained. He then added that “when we received a food distribution request in Diamond Bar City, I noticed that this is a relatively wealthy community. But after an assessment, I understood the impact of the pandemic had caused the need for food, so we arranged a food distribution immediately.”
Tzu Chi volunteers arrived on site early on the day of the distribution to set up. It wasn’t long after, at seven that morning, when residents began to line up in their vehicles to wait for the food distribution to start at 10 AM. It was evident that the people in this community required assistance with food.
A number of state and local government officials also arrived to express their support for the distribution event, including California Senator Ling Ling Chang, Diamond Bar Mayor Steve Tye, and City of Diamond Bar Councilmembers Andrew Chou, Ruth M. Low, and Jennifer “Fred” Mahlke.
California State Senator Ling Ling Chang, who grew up in Diamond Bar and served as a city councilmember, said it’s essential to help vulnerable seniors in the community during the pandemic. She once participated in Tzu Chi USA’s large-scale distribution on Mother’s Day and was deeply impressed with the distribution method. She shared that she was grateful for Tzu Chi’s willingness to come to her hometown, aiming to help seniors affected by the pandemic.
After the opening ceremony, State Senator Ling Ling Chang and Mayor Steve Tye were among the officials who stayed to help Tzu Chi volunteers with the food giveaway and worked together to load groceries into the trunks of cars as they pulled up. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, 160 sets of food packages were distributed between 10 AM and noon.
Empathy for the Residents of Diamond Bar
Mayor Steve Tye explained that the City of Diamond Bar isn’t an exceptionally affluent community, but when compared to neighboring areas, it’s relatively well-to-do and middle-class. However, this doesn’t mean that residents don’t need help. Food distributions can help residents who have lost their jobs or businesses realize that local organizations are willing to assist when they know their challenges. Additionally, the Diamond Bar Community Foundation also has many support programs where residents can directly contact the city.
City Councilmember Jennifer Mahlke shared that high housing prices suggest to the outside world that Diamond Bar residents are wealthy. However, many have lived in the same house for 40 or 50 years, and their homes weren’t initially expensive, although property taxes have skyrocketed recently due to increases in home value. While senior citizens here may have had retirement plans, the pandemic has disrupted them. Now, they must save just to maintain their houses and living.
On behalf of the City of Diamond Bar residents, Steve and Jennifer thanked Tzu Chi for coming to help those in the community in need of food.
Have Faith and Be Strong
Tzu Chi’s food distribution brought relief to many seniors in the Diamond Bar area, as those who came to the event confirmed. Elaine Deleon shared that the COVID-19 pandemic has indeed brought a lot of inconvenience to seniors in the city. For example, the elderly can only stay at home, can’t go anywhere, or have visitors. Unable to have any personal contact with others, some seniors have developed symptoms of depression. Besides, it’s also difficult for them to get groceries. A food distribution like this is indeed a fortunate and great help.
There’s no vaccine available for the coronavirus, which scares Terri Wagner, another senior who came to the distribution. She shared that now she’s forced to be a homebody, then elaborated, saying, “Now, I can hardly go anywhere, only to places where I can walk my dog around my community. In the past, I used to visit friends in other cities and travel to taste delicious foods at different restaurants, but now it’s all stopped. The pandemic created many inconveniences for my lifestyle. [Also], I’m not used to wearing a mask.”
From their exchanges with Tzu Chi volunteers, it was evident that seniors in the area had been complying with City regulations and staying home during this period, only stepping out for essentials. They were thankful for the food Tzu Chi was providing, as besides it being free, the gift was saving them a trip to the grocery store, reducing the chance of person-to-person contact, thereby helping them avoid possible infection.
Encouraging Vegetarianism While Distributing Food
Tzu Chi volunteers also seized the moment to promote vegetarianism at the grocery giveaway in Diamond Bar, actively encouraging those who came to pledge to adopt a vegetarian diet for a period of time. Tzu Chi volunteer Jingyi Lee, who was part of the team, explained how they propose to those waiting in line to start with one or two vegetarian meals a day. Soon, their whole family may decide to follow suit.
The volunteers thus approached each vehicle, their home-made posters promoting vegetarianism in hand. Chaosung Pan said, “Our mission in promoting vegetarianism is to change the eating habits of all people.”
City of Diamond Bar Councilmember Andrew Chou supported their initiative by taking action: “I pledge to maintain two vegetarian meals a day for the next 60 days, mainly for health and environmental purposes. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, everyone I know stayed home. I also planted vegetables at home, hoping to eat healthier. Secondly, a vegetarian diet can reduce carbon emissions and reduce the greenhouse effect. This is a great cause, so I’m supporting it.”
From free food received under safe conditions to inspiration towards a healthier diet that simultaneously helps to halt climate change, the seniors who came to the distribution in Diamond Bar benefited in several ways. As the pandemic continues, such community aid is of great value, bringing tangible and moral support at a most challenging time. Please support our Together While Apart campaign, and join the Tzu Chi family in assisting vulnerable members of communities across America.