Written by Chiamei Lin
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
On September 18, 2020, there was a flurry of activity inside and out of Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region’s New Jersey campus. The volunteers on site were busy preparing to welcome care recipients to their weekly food pantry distribution, their diligence as steady as the sun, which only hid behind clouds occasionally as they swept past along with the gentle autumn breeze.
And yet, one could also detect an added air of excitement in their efforts this particular day, as it marked the food pantry’s 10th Anniversary. The volunteers announced the happy occasion with a sign made out of cardboard boxes placed in the middle of the parking lot, heralding a decade of food assistance in the community.
To add to the festive atmosphere, volunteers also donned creatively decorated vests made out of paper bags. And to further enhance the joyful mood, they planned to play Happy Birthday tunes and Tzu Chi’s Spanish songs on a sound system that Christopher Grimyser, a local community volunteer, had brought from home.
Before the start of the food pantry service at 10:30 AM, the volunteers worked seamlessly as a team to sort the food and package it in the kitchen, and set up the drive-through distribution station. Their ten years of experience were evident in how they executed everything swiftly and in an orderly fashion.
Finally, at 10:30, with the celebratory sound of music proclaimed the opening of the food pantry, a stream of vehicles began to move towards the distribution station. As a preventive measure during the pandemic, Tina Lee, Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, prepared face shields and medical masks for the volunteers to wear as they served the public.
With the queue of vehicles winding through the length of the parking lot and beyond, some volunteers came up to say hello to the families as they waited their turn to receive food and shared Tzu Chi’s mission of encouraging a vegetarian diet. They invited people to pledge to eat a few vegetarian meals, the number of their choice.
As the volunteers explained the importance of vegetarianism, many care recipients were receptive. One lady responded by saying, “Eating vegetarian meals makes people happy, shows love for animals, and it’s also for better air quality and the health of Mother Earth.” In any case, they would have a good head start as Tzu Chi is known to provide plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits at its food pantries and distributions.
In addition to fruits and vegetables, the volunteers also included “Love from Taiwan.” Tzu Chi’s Jing Si Instant Rice, sent from Taiwan, was part of the food supplies given out since Master Cheng Yen was worried that care recipients in the U.S. might not have enough food staples during the pandemic.
Joseph Cirasa, Chief of Police in Cedar Grove – home to Tzu Chi New Jersey’s campus – was invited and came to celebrate the food pantry’s 10th anniversary. He visited the facilities, saw the entire food pantry operation, and learned about Tzu Chi’s missions and volunteer training procedures. He repeatedly acknowledged Tzu Chi’s food pantry’s seamless flow during the visit, stressing how it made a complicated process neat and orderly.
Some of the community volunteers serving at the distribution were care recipients as well. Rosalinda, who is both, shared her reasons for volunteering. She said that Tzu Chi is one of the few organizations that continue food distributions during the pandemic, helping struggling families significantly. Tzu Chi’s contribution to the community and its volunteers’ selfless care moved her, prompting her to join the effort and spread the love she had received.
And, for some Tzu Chi volunteers, those who have been part of this program since the beginning, the food pantry’s anniversary was an opportunity to look back at a decade of milestones.
Volunteer Tina Lee said that after these ten years of hard work, surmounting all difficulties along the way, everyone’s perseverance had created the successful food pantry we see today.
Doris Chang, the main coordinator for this event, was glad to see all the creativity that volunteers brought, hoping to infuse joy and bring additional moral support to those who are doing their best to get by and cope with all the hardships during the pandemic.
In the team’s eyes, volunteer Mingchang Lin is a hero behind the scenes to the success of the food pantry. But if one mentions it, Mingchang humbly attributes all the credit to others. However, her deep connection to and enthusiasm about the food pantry is evident as she declares that when it comes to inspections from the City, Tzu Chi’s food pantry operation always gets top marks. Yet perhaps the greatest testament to their achievement is the confidence of the team who operate the food pantry flawlessly.
Linghua Chen is another volunteer who has contributed a lot to the food pantry’s growth over the past ten years. She, as well, will deflect all credit, calling attention to the purity all the volunteers strive to bring to their efforts:
That’s how Linghua Chen served the community for the past ten years. Of course, besides the team’s seasoned members, some volunteers had come to help at a Tzu Chi food pantry distribution for the first time, and also learned to adopt this approach.
Jinren Huang, who came from Philadelphia, had helped sort and handle produce and staples at other food banks before. However, participating in Tzu Chi’s distribution brought him new reflections about volunteering, as he especially appreciated interacting with care recipients directly. Seizing the opportunity to be of service, then actually seeing the happiness and gratitude of care recipients first hand was a novel and cherished experience, as well as an honor.
A total of 42 volunteers joyfully participated in this anniversary food pantry event, which benefited 760 individuals. And now, Tzu Chi New Jersey looks forward to another decade of community service.
The love and support of people who care about others’ wellbeing make programs like this and all Tzu Chi missions possible. Join our circle of care!