Nurturing Unconditional Love and Relief After the Chicago Tornado

Midwest  |  July 30, 2021
Tzu Chi volunteers from Chicago quickly mobilize disaster relief efforts after the tornado. Photo/Yue Ma

Written by Yue Ma
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On June 20th, 2021, a tornado struck Chicago, touching down mere minutes away from Tzu Chi USA’s Midwest Regional Office. The following day, volunteers began assessing affected areas and quickly launched relief efforts during the weekend. Over 100 homes were affected by the tornado in the densely populated Chicago area, and many were forced to relocate.

Soon after, volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s Midwest Regional Office collaborated with the Illinois COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster) and the American Red Cross on June 26th, 27th, and July 2nd, in Naperville and Woodridge to provide their relief.

Marc and Marie Whirledge learn about Tzu Chi’s humanitarian missions at the distribution. Photo/Yue Ma
Many senior citizens require assistance after the suddenness of the disaster. Photo/Yue Ma

“The firefighters came [to our apartment] and made us all evacuate. The power was still not turned on in the building,” explained a care recipient named Kathleen Ahern. Volunteers listened as she recounted carefully walking across the corridor filled with broken glass, shattered wall panels, mud, and other debris. And how she then walked out of the building they once called home still in shock. Her car was gone, completely out of sight.

I looked around and saw cars flipped over, and roofs torn off. It was just horrible. Something I’ll never want to go through ever again.

Kathleen Ahern, Care Recipient
Volunteers share the origin of Tzu Chi’s bamboo bank with care recipients. Photo/Yue Ma

Tzu Chi volunteers distributed cash cards with either an amount of $600 or $300 based on the individual needs of the household, Jing Si instant rice, noodles, protective face masks, hand sanitizers, bamboo banks, scarves, eco-friendly blankets, and a heartfelt letter of condolences from Dharma Master Cheng Yen to each affected household.

“Tzu Chi has donated not only things that bring us comfort out of beautiful recycled materials [like this eco-blanket] but tea, noodles, and also ways for us to give back [with this bamboo bank],” expressed two care recipients, Justin and Erin Storr. They held the bamboo bank thoughtfully as volunteers described how banks like these help make Tzu Chi’s cash cards possible. Indeed, the funds were donated by loving individuals from all over the world who saved up a little change each day in the hopes of helping someone else someday. “This makes us feel great because we want to give back to everyone who’s given to us,” they said, touched by the support.

On July 2nd, Tzu Chi was invited by Gina Cunningham, the mayor of the Village of Woodridge, to continue collaboration at the relief distribution. When Mayor Gina Cunningham saw Tzu Chi volunteers interacting with community residents with such love and care, she reached out to learn more.

There was such a good feeling. I knew [Tzu Chi volunteers] were a giving group of people that were really there to help others. I sensed it right away.

Gina Cunningham, Mayor of Woodridge

Bill Foster is a scientist, businessman, and U.S. Congressman representing Illinois’ 11th Congressional District. He was surprised to discover that Tzu Chi originated in Taiwan. “Early in the pandemic [in the United States], Taiwan was very important for the United States, delivering PPE when our country needed them desperately,” he recounted. “And I was very proud that we recently returned the favor by shipping more than 2 million vaccines to Taiwan. It’s remarkable how different countries around the world will come together to help!”

Tzu Chi volunteers believe that unconditional love knows no borders, and the collaboration between organizations can work hand in hand to overcome global challenges. “[Tzu Chi volunteers are] always willing to give and to listen to people. Tzu Chi has always been one of my top picks!” said Joy Medrano, chair of the Northeast Illinois COAD. Joy had become familiar with Tzu Chi through several collaborative relief efforts, and volunteers are profoundly grateful for her aid. “Tzu Chi needs to be at every distribution and a partnership at everything we do.”

Warmth radiates from volunteers and care recipients alike, nourishing hope for the future. Photo/Yue Ma

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