On the Frontlines of COVID-19: Distributions of Masks Continue in Houston

Southern  |  April 23, 2020
Photo by Roger Lin

Written by Pen-Chi Liu
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

On the afternoon of April 18, 2020, Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region chapter held a second distribution of face masks at its office in Houston. Due to a limited supply, the first distribution, held on April 11, had catered mainly to certified Tzu Chi volunteers, Tzu Cheng Faith Corps members, and a few Tzu Chi members from local communities. 

Since the chapter had received a new shipment during the week following, the scope of those served by the second distribution expanded to include regular Tzu Chi volunteers, Tzu Chi Academy staff, teachers of community education classes, and members of Chinese and Vietnamese communities in the Greater Houston Area. 

The weather forecast for April 18 called for cloudy conditions and a chance of severe thunderstorms, but this didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of volunteers organizing the event, who were grateful to be of help to the community in preventing the spread of COVID-19

Volunteers set up for the distribution of face masks event on April 18. Photo / Jean Hsu
The distribution stations and traffic flow are planned out the day before the event. Photo / Jean Hsu

The Executive Director of the Southern Region, Tarzan Huang, and Tzu Chi volunteer Jean Hsu planned out the distribution stations and traffic flow the day before. And on the day of the event, everyone arrived early to organize their stations, disinfect work areas, and pack the masks and grain powders for distribution into care packages. 

By 12:30 PM, their preparations completed, volunteers joined together in prayer for all those suffering due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Afterward, Tarzan Huang briefed the group, reminding everyone of their duties, and of the importance of keeping a safe social distance, and maintaining a joyful attitude. And then they were ready to go to work.

Volunteers arrive early on the day of the event in order to prepare by organizing the items, disinfecting, and so on. Photo / Kelly Hsu
Volunteers arrive early on the day of the event in order to prepare by organizing the items, disinfecting, and so on. Photo / Kelly Hsu
Before the start of the distribution event, volunteers take time to pray together for all those affected by COVID-19. Photo / Jean Hsu

At 1 PM sharp, the cars began to arrive. Volunteers worked efficiently and safely, first asking drivers to roll down the passenger side or back window as they turned into the parking lot. Since the majority of people had registered before, as they stopped at distribution stations, volunteers verified names or member IDs, then placed the care packages inside the cars through the open windows.  

Many people also took this opportunity to do their part in helping others. After they received their masks, some stopped by the Jing Si Bookstore to donate to help Tzu Chi procure more critical supplies in the fight against the pandemic.

As cars arrive, volunteers request that they roll down the passenger or back window through which they will receive the donated items. Photo / Penny Liu
Cars proceed to the distribution site in orderly fashion. Photo / Penny Liu

One recipient had even brought a big envelope with “Donation for defeating the epidemic” written on it. The love and compassion of those attending the distribution were touching.

Although the sky did open up for a while, it was a blessing that the rain in the area wasn’t overly heavy and lasted just a few minutes. Meanwhile, on the same day, other parts of Houston reported severe rainfall, gusty winds, and even quarter-sized hail. The anomaly in the weather called to mind that many of those attending this event could count their blessings, having stayed safe and healthy so far.

Many stopped by the Jing Si Bookstore to make a donation so as to benefit others. Photo / Penny Liu
One recipient brought a special envelope for his donation! Photo / Penny Liu

In total, Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region chapter distributed 2,490 medical masks and 120 cloth masks on April 18. After the close of the event, volunteers met in the conference room. They were eager to discuss plans for future distributions once more shipments arrive, aiming to benefit healthcare workers, first-responders, staff in correctional facilities, and other hot spots for infection as the pandemic rages on, unchecked in areas across the United States.

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