Northern California: Volunteers Prepared Monthly Hot Meal for Those in Need at SHP Shelter

Northwest  |  January 30, 2024
Volunteers brought hot meals to the SHP’s kitchen for distribution. Photo/Renee Liu
Volunteers brought hot meals to the SHP’s kitchen for distribution. Photo/Renee Liu

Written by Mei Tuan Huang, Renee Liu
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane

In the Bay Area of Northern California, economic growth driven by the tech boom has drastically driven up home prices and rents. However, the post-pandemic recession and layoffs in the high-tech sector have exacerbated the long-lasting housing shortage and put particular financial strain on many families. The number of unhoused people in the area has skyrocketed in the past two years. Cognizant of the great need, Tzu Chi Northwest Region volunteers went to homeless shelters in the middle of winter to distribute hot Chinese meals to warm the stomachs and hearts of those in need.

Volunteers serve hot food to street residents with their hands.
Volunteers hand out hot meals to unhoused individuals. Photo/ Renee Liu

Housing Shortage Exacerbates Homelessness Issues

Since July 2023, Tzu Chi volunteers living in Fremont, California have been to South Hayward Parish on the second or third Saturday of each month to distribute hot meals to individuals experiencing homelessness. The church has a small shelter that accommodates roughly 20 homeless people, all of whom can stay overnight during inclement weather.

Warming Hot Meals and Warming Services

This is like first-class service! The food is delicious! I'm so happy you guys are here! Thank you!

Street friend was very satisfied with the dinner.
Shelter resident Joshika is satisfied with the dinner. Photo/Renee Liu

Tzu Chi volunteers gathered at Tzu Chi Northwest Region’s central kitchen early in the afternoon. They quickly got to work, busily chopping and cooking in preparation for the evening’s hot meal distribution. The volunteers worked together to deliver freshly cooked Chinese vegetarian meals to South Hayward Parish, where another group of volunteers took over the distribution service in the kitchen of the church’s shelter.

Just before 6 p.m., several neighbors in need were seen lugging their bags and belongings to the South Hayward Parish shelter, waiting patiently in front of the door for a delicious dinner. After more than six months of interaction, the volunteers and the unhoused individuals who make use of the shelter’s services have become familiar with each other. Everyone greeted each other warmly like old friends. Putting on their aprons, the volunteers distributed the meals and filled plates with hot chow mein, fried rice, and deep-fried spring rolls. Volunteers presented each plate with both hands so that their friends could enjoy the dinner.

The Story of an Artist in Adversity

One of the regular unhoused people at the shelter, Francis, enthusiastically greets volunteers every time they visit. He used to be a painter who loved art and often shared and showed his paintings to the volunteers. He used to be a truck driver by profession and painted on the side. He said with great emotion that because of his age and a broken back from a car accident, he was unable to paint or work and subsequently lost his home. He had long hoped to have a better life, harnessing his artistic abilities to express himself.

Francis, a street friend, is looking forward to this meal.
Regular guest Francis looks forward to the dinner. Photo/Renee Liu
Francis shows his paintings to Tzu Chi volunteers.
Francis shows his paintings to Tzu Chi volunteers. Photo/Eric Lin

I have been looking forward to the dinner, it's really delicious. Right now, I have to stay here temporarily until I can find a place to live. I love that you guys come to volunteer, you're very kind and polite, I really like you guys.

One of Francis’ paintings hangs on the wall of the shelter. The beautiful design reads, “It’s by giving that we truly receive.” Tzu Chi volunteers selflessly gave their time and were busy all day long, just to let their neighbors in need feel the warmth of someone who cares for them.

Master Cheng Yen said, “As long as the bonding is destined, don’t worry that the bonding is not there yet.” The volunteers have established a bond with local unhoused individuals in just six months. Even though it is only a once-a-month meal distribution, the volunteers are willing to cherish this time to care for some of the community’s most vulnerable members. There is not much volunteers can offer other than a kind ear and an open heart. They listen to stories and chat with their new friends. Their actions remind everyone that people can still be touched, cherish their blessings, and create more blessings for others no matter their life circumstances.

More News Stories