New Hope in New Bern After Hurricane Florence

Greater Washington D.C.  |  March 8, 2019
Tzu Chi Volunteer Frank Chen pays a visit to New Bern resident Patricia Benjamin.

After Hurricane Florence destroyed parts of the Southeast in September 2018, including areas of the Carolinas and Georgia, Frank Chen and his fellow Tzu Chi volunteers knew there’d be much to do.  Following an assessment of the situation, they organized and hosted distributions in the towns of New Bern and Lumberton, North Carolina.

In great part, the New Bern distributions served 473 families with approximately $217,500 in emergency financial aid- to spend however they saw fit- thanks to the help of local officials including New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw, Temple Baptist Church Pastor Jim Pennington, and the Craven County Emergency Services Department.

This February 2019, Frank and his wife drove for six hours from their home in Maryland to meet again with those they’d worked with in New Bern.  Their goal: to see how Tzu Chi’s Washington DC Regional Chapter could help families still struggling to move past the Hurricane’s aftermath.

He first reunited with Mayor Outlaw, who had given a speech at the New Bern distribution, acknowledging the parallel beliefs of humanitarianism he shared with Tzu Chi’s founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen.  The timing of this meeting was perfect, as the Mayor was hosting a discussion on mid and long-term relief in New Bern with fellow community representatives.

New Bern mayor Dana Outlaw receives a red envelope, a token of good fortune for the Lunar New Year.

Frank would go on to express that he and his team of volunteers were ready and willing to host a follow-up distribution, but needed the Mayor’s help in identifying families most in need.  Pastor Jim Pennington was Mayor Outlaw’s top recommendation.

I was thinking to try to help more, but I don’t have people to look into it and say, “ok, in this building, or that building, really needs help,” like with the financial aid card.

Frank Chen, Tzu Chi Washington DC Executive Director

After a brief meeting with Emergency Services Director Stanley L. Kite and his secretary, the Tzu Chi volunteers went on to meet with Pastor Pennington.

Since Florence, the Temple Pastor Church has had its hands full, too, with helping families reconstruct their homes through the help of volunteer builders.  Pastor Pennington was more than happy to help provide names and, more importantly, join hands.

[Through Florence recovery,] we think we did well, but we are learning. If it happens again and we want to be more effective with whatever resources we have- to be to do the most.

Pastor Jim Pennington, Temple Baptist Church
Pastor Jim Pennington of the Temple Baptist Church meets with Frank Chen to catch up on the status of families recovering from Hurricane Florence.

After that, Frank and his wife went to visit a few families who had been recipients at Tzu Chi’s October distribution.  With them, they brought Lunar New Year gifts including a special red envelope from Dharma Master Cheng Yen and a pouch with Jing Si multi-grain beverage powders.

These recipients included Santresa Simmons, Patricia Benjamin, and Stephanie Henderson.  Stephanie, a grandmother, has been using an electric pan since her oven stopped working, and her ceiling is still unfinished.  Though Frank was glad to see them in better spirits, there is still much to do.

You can help families overcome the myriad obstacles they face after disaster strikes with a donation to Tzu Chi USA.

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