Promising Spring Renewal – Tzu Chi Compassion for Texas Tornado Survivors

Southern  |  May 14, 2019
Photo Credit: Jason Chen

AuthorFangwen Huang
Translation: Qingjun Wei

While spring weather in Texas is often unpredictable, the love and compassion kindled by Tzu Chi USA Texas volunteers at the Austin Office is always consistent.

On April 13th, 2019, Southern Franklin City, 100 miles south of Austin, Texas, was hit by a 140-mile-per-hour tornado. The storm left the city in ruins; 55 houses were destroyed, and communal buildings such as local food pantries and food banks felt the storm’s impacted.

Following a disaster assessment, Tzu Chi USA volunteers held a relief distribution for impacted residents on April 27th, 2019. On the day of the distribution, 28 eager Tzu Chi USA volunteers awoke at dawn to gather at the Austin regional office and began a 1.5-hour journey to St. Francis Church in Franklin City.

Upon arrival, the Tzu Chi USA team was greeted by a welcome sign that the Church had prepared in advance as a symbol of the fruitful partnership. Despite the scale of the distribution, both community partner and Tzu Chi volunteers showed an immense magnitude of compassion and care.

St. Francis Church located in Franklin City, Texas. Photo Credit: Jason Chen
Welcome sign guides volunteers and aid recipients to the relief distribution center. Photo Credit: Fangwen Huang

There were a total of 70 households seeking aid on the disaster relief distribution list, however many survivors were unable to attend due to restricting or debilitating circumstances. On the day of the distribution, only 32 families were able to come.

Priest of Franklin Catholic Church Celso Yu, originally from the Philippines, was on site at the St. Francis Church for the duration of the disaster relief distribution. When Priest Yu first heard of the extent of global impact that Tzu Chi elicits, he was amazed and inspired by Tzu Chi successes. Priest Yu spoke highly of Tzu Chi’s selfless compassion and was willing to participate in the bamboo bank spirit.

Helping others [is] not limited to monetary help;
It can be believing in others who will give wholeheartedly.

Franklin City Mayor Molly Hedrick collaborated with Tzu Chi to help ensure the execution of the distribution was a success. In support of the community, Major Hedrick demonstrated compassion and assisted in the dispersion of aid to families throughout the entire duration of the distribution. 

Seeing her fellow citizens being cared for by compassionate volunteers, she was deeply moved. “I need a bamboo bank too!” she said, with hope in her eyes and a smile on her face. Mayor Hendrick coincided with the spirit of unity that bamboo banks represent—small changes with a big impact for charity—and considered participation in the mission to be an honor.

Southern Tornado Relief Tzu Chi
Mayor Hedrick pictured on site at the disaster relief distribution. Photo Credit: Eric Chen

A total of $16,900 dollars in aid was distributed, in addition to souvenirs, bamboo banks and blessings were delivered to impacted survivors in order to instill hope in times of darkness and ensure a swift recovery.

Southern Texas Disaster Relief
Group picture of Mayor Hendrick, St. Francis Church Members, and the Tzu Chi Relief Team at the distribution site in Franklin City, Texas. Photo Credit: Eric Chen

Survivor Stories: Family Strength and Restored Hope in Times of Disaster

Southern Franklin City resident Hope Zeig’s brother-in-law was in sight of his house when it was destroyed by the tornado’s path of destruction. This traumatic event caused tremendous stress, which exacerbated his chronic pneumonia and caused him to seek urgent care at an ICU. At the time of Tzu Chi’s disaster relief mission, Hope’s sister was still at the hospital taking care of the brother-in-law and was unable to make it to the distribution in time. After confirmation from Mayor Hendrick regarding their circumstances, Hope was able to receive distribution goods for her sister.

Hope was also taking care of her sister’s six children during this time. While the tornado caused tremendous destruction, the disaster elicited great compassion in the Zeig family and only made the bond between these sisters stronger.

Texas Tornado Relief Tzu Chi
Hope shares pictures of her sister’s destroyed house with volunteer. Photo Credit: Eric Chen
Texas Tornado Relief Tzu Chi
Photo Credit: Fangwen Huang

A Mexican family from the Southern Franklin City community came to the distribution in search of shelter assistance. After their home was destroyed by the tornado, with nowhere to go the family resorted to living in their garage. While the tornado rendered their home uninhabitable, they chose to stay, as protecting the home is an important part of their cultural tradition.

Southern Tornado Disaster Relief
Volunteers show empathy and care to victim who escaped a potentially fatal roof accident. Photo Credit: Eric Chen

Tzu Chi volunteer Ling Yin Liu from the St. Anthony regional office hugged this aid recipient and told her, “It’s lucky to be alive. After cheating death, your life will only be blessed!” 

Another survivor at the distribution who faced perilous destruction from the disaster was nurse Chrisie Perez. The day of the storm, Chrisie was suddenly awoken by a loud noise. Violent gusts of winds from the tornado caused the walls of her bedroom to collapse on her bed. Luckily she took cover under the bed and escaped without any injuries.

Southern Disaster Relief Tzu Chi
Volunteers at the distribution center followed the Tzu Chi humanitarian guidelines of ‘Gratitude, Respect and Love’ in the provision of attentive care for aid recipients. Photo Credit: Fangwen Huang

When the tornado struck the city, Billee Ruiz and her husband Rey were out of town to celebrate a father-in-law’s birthday. They thought that their house wouldn’t be affected by the storm, but soon found out that their home had been blown into ruins, including their precious belongings and beloved memories from the interior of the home.

“My house was ripped off the ground and slapped back down in the tornado; the baseline moved 10 inches. The deck and the house [were] separated, the shed was gone, only the basement floor [was] left,” Billee said. “You can tell how strong the wind was.

As their once beloved home became uninhabitable, the two were displaced and in shock. Upon returning home from their trip, they stood in front of the ruins where their lovely house once stood and didn’t know what to do.

Tzu Chi’s disaster aid was a blessing of relief. After attending the distribution in South Franklin City, Billee and Rey invited Tzu Chi volunteers to visit the remains of what used to be their home.

Southern Tornado Crisis Relief Tzu Chi
Billee points out the iron frame under the house to Tzu Chi volunteers.
Photo Credits: Fangwen Huang

Volunteer Snapshots: Heroes Making Moments Matter

Southern Disaster Relief Tzu Chi
Tzu Chi Youth volunteer interacted with survivors under the supervision of experienced Tzu Chi Volunteers. Photo Credit: Eric Chen
Photo Credit: Jason Chen

Tzu Chi youth volunteers on site at the distribution not only helped with aid recipient registration, but also provided emotional support to survivors. They are truly the core power of disaster relief at the Austin regional office.

Growing up in a Tzu Chi family, Volunteer Vincent Wen has been to many disaster relief distributions. However, this was the first time Wen experienced face-to-face interactions with survivors. His heart was filled with empathy and determination to further assist survivors in their journey to recovery.

Knowing how [many] unfortunate events they’ve gone through, I am inspired to be more compassionate

Vincent Wen

College freshman and Tzu Chi volunteer Stacy Zhou, from mainland China, knew of the Tzu Chi foundation from her mother. A week ago, Stacy happened to run into Tzu Chi volunteers and learned about the upcoming disaster relief event in South Franklin City.

After deciding to participate, Stacy took an hour and a half trip to Austin and stayed there overnight to join Tzu Chi volunteers on their route to the distribution event.

It’s amazing to see such a caring heart at such a young age.

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