Providing Back to School Supplies and Food for Families in San Bernardino

National Headquarters  | September 28, 2021
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Volunteers present carefully prepared new backpacks filled with stationery to students from underprivileged families so the children can return to school with peace of mind. Photo/I Wen Chiu

Written by Chung Chiu Chen
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

The 2021 fall semester has begun! On August 22, Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters volunteers returned to Juanita B. Jones Elementary School in San Bernardino, California. They aimed to simultaneously carry out two types of distributions on the premises: one team providing food and another backpacks and stationery. It would be a hectic endeavor, yet even a stressful venture can feel joyful and pleasant when motivated by love and care. 

As Tzu Chi volunteers took care of final preparations, a line of eager parents had already formed along the school’s fence to wait for the event to begin. One group of Tzu Chi volunteers busily sorting out a wide variety of food in the school’s driveway, as another was in the dining area behind the building, sorting out the backpacks and stationery as well as setting up the distribution site. And finally, everything was ready for this particular event, although Tzu Chi has been a constant presence at the school throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past year or so, Tzu Chi volunteers have been caring for this impoverished community in Southern California’s Inland Empire metropolitan region, adjacent to Los Angeles, helping relieve the pandemic’s economic pressures on families of school children through regular food distribution. Now that the government has informed schools that they can resume in-person classes, Tzu Chi certainly won’t forget these children. 

As care recipients picked up food for their families, each child also received a brand-new backpack. The backpacks were filled with essential stationery so that these students could resume their studies without any materials lacking, thus feeling confident and prepared as they steadily advance toward a brighter future. 

Neatly arranged colorful backpacks wait for schoolchildren to collect them alongside the food distribution. Photo/I Wen Chiu

There were also a few young people in the Tzu Chi volunteer team at the distribution this month: Students from San Bernardino City Unified School District’s Pacific High School, led by their teacher Eric Harworth. Beginning a few years ago, with encouragement from authorities from the School District, Pacific High School intended to have its students participate in social service activities as a means of paying back to society. However, while teachers and students had identified social issues in the community, they didn’t know where to start. 

Eventually, Pacific High School determined that starting with limited, simple, and easy-to-participate-in activities seemed the best route to social service. Volunteering to help during Tzu Chi activities was ideal and marked the beginning of the school’s teachers and students paying back to their community. Unfortunately, the pandemic had interrupted their involvement until now.

I’m excited to be back and participate in Tzu Chi activities with my students. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the students have not participated in any service activities for a long time. Therefore, I’m grateful for the opportunity to take students out to participate in activities for the first time since the pandemic [began].

Eric Harworth
Pacific High School Teacher
San Bernardino City Unified School District
Volunteers unpack boxes of food in preparation for the distribution. Photo/I Wen Chiu

The high school students who came with Eric on this day quickly took their volunteer stations, ready to serve community members with care. Jasmine Nelson, a senior, assumed the job of preparing wet towels to wash away the distribution registration number that had been temporarily marked on car windows before the care recipients drove away. 

“Our high school Economics teacher told us the story of Tzu Chi distributing free food to families in need and how this charity organization was established to help others at the beginning. I was very touched,” Jasmine said, adding, “I think it’s wonderful that the residents in the community know that they have this choice and can receive free food distribution.” 

As usual, most neighborhood residents drove to collect food, yet some living in senior living apartments next to the school walked over to pick up the food. The high school students were glad to help them, enthusiastically putting food bags in the carts they had brought to transport the heavy supplies back to their residences.

Volunteers put food in the carts of seniors who walked over from their residences nearby. Photo/I Wen Chiu

Food With a Message

One of the senior care recipients, Mr. Wu, shared that for him, Tzu Chi’s food distribution means more than helping him feed himself. “Tzu Chi has been a great help to me because all the food is vegetarian, and I’m basically a vegetarian. Besides, Tzu Chi distributes every month, which takes care of those who are in financial difficulties,” he said. 

He also recounted that he’d lived within a Buddhist community before and appreciated Tzu Chi’s advocacy for a vegetarian diet, expounding, “I lived in The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for some time, that’s why I like vegetarian food. The purpose of being a vegetarian is to stop killing: If we are vegetarian, there will be no killing.” 

Actually, Tzu Chi’s food distributions offer more than a replenishment of recipient households’ pantries – they also bring a compassionate, environmental, and health-conscious message about the benefits of vegetarian diets. Tzu Chi has been actively encouraging vegetarianism for many years. 

After the outbreak of COVID-19, Tzu Chi USA launched the Very Veggie Movement, which has made great strides in promoting a vegetarian diet by cooperating with restaurants to provide deals and offers for veggie meals. Mr. Wu’s words showed that Tzu Chi’s activities have public support.

A poster calling for vegetarianism on distribution day at Juanita B. Jones Elementary School in San Bernardino, California on August 22, 2021. Photo/I Wen Chiu

A Family Affair

All four members of the Ye family participated in Tzi Chi’s distribution at the school together. Li Li Lin, the mother said, “Our two children are both high school students. This is our second time participating in Tzu Chi activities. The children have never had the opportunity to participate in such community service activities before. I hope this opportunity will enable them to pay back the society, step out of their comfort zone, and also meet other people of their own age who are interested in paying back to society.” 

Besides the love-filled backpacks the kids received, families took home various food items, including canned plant-based foods, peanut butter, fresh vegetables, fruit juice, and tortillas. Not only during the pandemic but also in ordinary times, these foods will help families in need feed their loved ones. 

The Tzu Chi volunteers at the event also hoped that the young people who came to help out would recognize that having a healthy meal is not to be taken for granted, as many families struggle to provide for their children. In the end, gratitude for our blessings alongside awakening the motivation to help those in need was the message they hoped the high school students would retain for good, to carry them forward in life.

By supporting Tzu Chi USA’s missions, you can help those in need near or far as well. Through joining forces and working together, our love and care can go a long way.

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