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Tzu Chi’s New Jersey Branch Food Pantry: Adapting to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mid-Atlantic  |  March 30, 2020
Volunteers pack bags of groceries for food pantry recipients, facilitating a smooth pick-up procedure. Photo by Wankang Wang.

Written by Hsinyi Yu, Wankang Wang
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

For some, the new coronavirus can produce mild to moderate symptoms, including a fever and cough which thankfully clears up within two to three weeks. For others, however — especially older adults and individuals with existing health problems — the virus has the potential to impact one’s health in ways that are far more severe, leading to pneumonia or even death. With the pandemic escalating and New Jersey in a state of emergency, Tzu Chi volunteers swiftly called for an emergency meeting to ascertain how best to help people in need.

After the state announced its first COVID-19 case on March 4th, Tzu Chi volunteers from New Jersey who manage the food pantry program held an urgent meeting to discuss preventive measures. For example, how to conduct food distributions with concern for individuals in an enclosed space. During this troubling time, the beneficiaries of the food pantry program still rely heavily on the fruits, vegetables, and dry goods provided by Tzu Chi USA, and thus, closing the food pantry service would be the last resort. To take care of the health and safety of both the volunteers and our beneficiaries, volunteers determined to adopt an outdoor distribution method.


Help us flatten the curve as we deliver crucial protective supplies to medical professionals as they serve their patients with care amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tzu Chi volunteers prepare hand sanitizer, a clipboard, and place the food in the car for the beneficiaries. Photo by Wankang Wang.
Volunteers place the packed grocery bags on tables near the curb at the main entrance for the convenience of being able to place it directly into a car.

At Tzu Chi’s New Jersey branch, a canopy provides shade and shelter from the rain over the side entrance. Volunteers use this entrance to distribute pre-packed bags of groceries, and cars can drive down the road in a single line for smooth and easy pick-up. The Food Bank of New Jersey also requires beneficiaries to sign in-person when supplies are picked up. Therefore, volunteers prepared hand sanitizer, a clipboard for signing in, and placed the food in the car for the beneficiaries.

Each of our volunteers wears a mask and gloves, spraying hands with sanitizer before sign-in, and the pen will be disinfected after each use.

Chia-Huang Chang, Tzu Chi Volunteer

Due to the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, the distribution practices were adjusted again on March 20th. Beneficiaries are no longer required to sign in, instead, providing volunteers with their assigned number. Since the course of a developing pandemic is difficult to predict, after this distribution, the food pantry will be temporarily put on hold and will be open again when approved by city officials.

There are many confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Jersey, but volunteers still report to the food pantry office on Friday to prepare for future distributions. “We all take our temperature, wear gloves, masks, and wash our hands thoroughly,” said Tzu Chi volunteer, Hua Lin. 


Help us flatten the curve as we deliver crucial protective supplies to medical professionals as they serve their patients with care amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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