The Pandemic Won’t Interfere With a 23-Year Christmas Tradition in Florida

Southern  |  January 15, 2021
For 23 years, Tzu Chi volunteers in Florida have brought Christmas gifts for patients at the Tacachale Developmental Disability Center in Gainesville. The pandemic would not interfere with this tradition in 2020. Photo/Fuchi Prucha

Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

Christmas is an important annual celebration that brings family reunions across America. However, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, most Americans made do with only decorating their homes and front yards with Christmas lights to mark the holiday. To avoid the spread of the virus, people postponed any travel plans and prepared to spend Christmas just with those in their household, without visits from extended family, friends, neighbors, or other guests. 

Christmas 2020 would undoubtedly be different and potentially lonely for many. However, for residents of nursing homes, senior centers, and other extended-care facilities, who may already spend a lot of time away from their families, the sense of isolation might feel even more hard to bear and extreme.

In order to comfort patients at the Tacachale Developmental Disability Center, a Tacachale Dahlia Hospital Unit in Gainesville, volunteers from Tzu Chi USA Southern Region’s Orlando Service Center traveled there on December 19, bringing Christmas gifts. In fact, volunteers from the service center have been visiting this care facility for 23 years, gladly driving the more than 100-mile distance to reach it and bring comfort to its residents.

Tzu Chi’s Care Persists in Difficult Times

The pandemic has affected everyone’s lifestyle, from work to leisure activities, social gatherings, travel, and more. To protect themselves and others and reduce the probability of community transmission, many people follow stay-at-home orders and go out only when necessary. They will also never leave home without face coverings or masks to wear when out in public. 

The U.S. economy has also been severely affected by the pandemic. Many companies are facing economic difficulties and have to lay off employees to stay afloat. Of those who lost their jobs, many are struggling to make ends meet while also at risk of contracting the virus, whose spread continues globally. And, sadly, those who are infected can find themselves fighting for their lives in hospitals, while many families are confronting the pain of a loved one’s sudden death.

A senior Tzu Chi USA volunteer delivers the bags of presents for residents of the care facility. Photo/Fuchi Prucha

This Tacachale Dahlia Hospital Unit mainly accommodates patients with developmental disabilities. For patients confined to care facilities such as this, family visits during the holidays are among the most anticipated moments of the year. Alas, the patients here were already missing their loved ones for a long time. Even during the holidays in previous years, very few family members and friends came by. 

The situation only worsened in 2020, as most long-term care homes won’t open up visitation until state public health officials update their pandemic guidelines. Thus, long-term care patients are currently feeling even more desolate and lonely. 

Tzu Chi volunteers from the Orlando Service Center have upheld a relationship with this facility for 23 years, and the pandemic was not about to stand in the way of their bringing Christmas gifts as a way to express their love and care for the residents currently living here. This tradition would endure even though some Tzu Chi volunteers on the team are past retirement, their advanced age making them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

The care facility’s staff members accept the gifts for residents donated by Tzu Chi volunteers. Photo/Fuchi Prucha
Volunteers transport the bags of gifts on a golf cart, helping social workers at the hospital go ahead and distribute them in one ward after another. Photo/Fuchi Prucha

On December 19, the day of the gift donation, the volunteers took off from Orlando and would drive for nearly three hours to Gainesville then back. Six volunteers were part of this Christmas care mission, transporting numerous bags of presents in their cars, gifts that would then reach patients in nine wards.

The volunteers couldn’t personally deliver the gifts to each ward one by one, as they had in previous years, and could only hand the presents to the hospital’s social workers. Still, every gift symbolically represented their enduring care for the patients. One might even say the light of their love for them glowed even brighter, knowing how much it would mean to them when they can’t receive any visitors at all. 

When the community reopens, the volunteers will be able to see every familiar face once again. The instant gratification the patients feel during visits and the sight of their happy smiles are the biggest reward for the volunteers along their path of service. Through your support of Tzu Chi USA’s missions and activities, you can also share your love. So please don’t hesitate, as we welcome you to our team.

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