Volunteers From Tzu Chi’s Oakland Service Center Bring Love and Relief to the Community Amid the Pandemic

Northwest  |  March 30, 2021
Volunteer Mel Lee carefully glues the red envelope and prepares the year-end blessing gift bags at home, appreciating the opportunity to connect with the others. Photo/Ruei Jiao Lee

Written by Jennifer Thai, Yichin Hsieh
Translated by Diana Chang  
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

“My eyesight has become more blurry this year. I am worried that next year I won’t be able to see anything clearly, and I won’t be able to make the ‘Blessings and Wisdom’ envelopes anymore. So when I heard Sister Jennifer Tsai ask about the making of red envelopes at home during our monthly meeting, I immediately signed up. Because I can take my time to make it carefully at home, and grasp this opportunity to connect with others.” Kei Huang, who is 70 years of age and has been a dedicated Tzu Chi volunteer for more than 20 years, is also joyfully committed to making Tzu Chi’s special red envelopes.

Making Red Envelopes At Home

Due to the ongoing pandemic, many of this year’s events were held virtually. Fortunately, however, careful preparations for Tzu Chi’s special red “Blessings and Wisdom” envelopes could still indeed be carried out. Upholding important guidelines to safeguard one another’s health, volunteers from Tzu Chi’s Oakland Service Center formed two groups at home to prepare the year-end blessing gifts.

Maggie Chan, a Tzu Chi volunteer, shared her feelings about the process: “I invited friends who usually participate in the community book study to help with making the red envelopes and also watch Oakland’s year-end blessings program that day virtually. It took us about three hours to complete.” Tzu Chi volunteers, Yi Chen and Mel Lee, expressed in unison that there are many regulations that must be followed during the pandemic, so there haven’t been as many opportunities to serve the community. Making the red envelopes at home, however, allowed the volunteers to nourish caring relationships with others, “such a good opportunity must not be missed. I feel joyful and I am very grateful!” stated the volunteers.

Tzu Chi’s red envelopes and year-end blessing gift bags help volunteers at the Oakland Service Center bond with the community amidst the pandemic. Photo/Ruei Jiao Lee
The year-end blessing gift bags from Tzu Chi’s Oakland Service Center contain red envelopes, Jing Si Tea, Jing Si soy milk powder, porridge, blessing cards, and cloth masks. Photo/Jennifer Tsai

Volunteers from the Oakland Service Center worked as one to produce more than 100 red envelopes, and prepared more than 250 blessing gift bags, which were delivered to Tzu Chi volunteers and members alike by the volunteers in charge. Many members happily waited at their doors to receive the volunteers’ greetings. Mrs. Khanh, a Tzu Chi member, promptly placed Master Cheng Yen’s “Blessings and Wisdom” envelope and gifts on the Buddha table upon receiving them, and Tsaichu Lee graciously brought forth a Tzu Chi bamboo bank. Another member, Mrs. Chen, also told volunteers that the joy of receiving the blessings from Master Cheng Yen is even enough to ease her back pain.

Shuching Kuo, a member of Tzu Chi who has also been a supporter of Tzu Chi’s humanitarian work for more than ten years, is happy to receive the red envelope and year-end blessing gift bag personally delivered by volunteer Jennifer Thai. Photo/courtesy of Oakland Service Center

Food Distribution Resumes

Due to the severity of the pandemic, food distributions were suspended in November of 2020. On March 7th, however, the Oakland Service Center resumed food distribution activities in collaboration with the local Food Bank. A volunteer named Joseph Cheng provided his business warehouse to assist volunteers in their efforts to distribute food in a safe and secure environment. The relaunch of the food distribution project focuses on seniors living alone. Volunteers carefully distribute groceries according to the registered name list, personally delivering the grocery bags to the door of each individual.

A volunteer, Joseph Cheng (First Right), provides a warehouse to assist the volunteers with the food distribution. Photo/Chao Chang
Volunteer Lynda Tran arrives at the food bank early in the morning to pick up fruits and vegetables. She is thankful to resume food distributions and help ensure elderly community members living alone have the resources they need. Photo/Jennifer Thai
The volunteers carefully sort items according to the name list to be delivered personally. Photo/Chao Chang

After four months of waiting, I am very happy to be able to serve our elders again, and to help the elderly survive the difficult times brought by the pandemic. I am truly grateful.

Offering Free Tax Filing Services

In mid-January, the tax filing season began. Several social welfare organizations provide free tax filing services for low-income households, and this year, Tzu Chi’s Oakland Service Center is also participating in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Due to the continued challenges brought forth by the pandemic, low-income households who had previously received help filing their taxes from the volunteers at Oakland Service Center were concerned. They called to inquire if volunteers would resume tax preparation assistance this year. And therefore, the team of volunteers held a meeting to reach a decision on how to proceed. By putting Master Cheng Yen’s teachings into practice, volunteers carefully set the program in motion while ensuring they could reliably comply with essential health regulations. The VITA services began on February 7th and will continue until April 3rd.

A volunteer named Julie Kwan carefully plans the program with the city’s health regulations firmly in mind. Photo/Jennifer Thai
Another Tzu Chi volunteer, Susan Hong, is committed to putting Master Cheng Yen’s teachings into practice, and mindfully planned the free tax preparation services for low-income families. Photo/Jennifer Thai

The COVID-19 pandemic has now persisted for over one year, and has impacted the ways in which individuals interact with one another in many aspects. However, volunteers from Tzu Chi’s Oakland Service Center still uphold the blessings and teachings of Dharma Master Cheng Yen, and strive to conscientiously bring their love and relief to others however possible.

May we learn grand lessons and benefit all beings. May we do good and bring harmony to the world.

As we look toward the future, and toward seeing an end to this pandemic, Tzu Chi volunteers hope that these food distributions can encourage residents in the community to persevere.

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