Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
In Los Angeles County, California, on the morning of July 16, Tzu Chi volunteers converged at the community center next to San Dimas City Hall to pre-pack groceries as usual, for subsequent delivery to seniors in the area. However, on this particular occasion, representatives from California State Senator Anthony J. Portantino’s office and the City Council of San Dimas had assembled there as well.
The state and city government officials gathered the Tzu Chi volunteers together, then presented them with a Certificate of Recognition of Leadership from the California State Senate, and a letter of appreciation from the City Council of San Dimas.
Additionally, the City of San Dimas awarded a crystal plaque to Tzu Chi Foundation in recognition of its “extraordinary contributions, time and effort in support of the San Dimas Cares Project and San Dimas senior residents during the ‘Safer at Home’ guidelines.”
Since April 16, Tzu Chi volunteers had been supporting the City of San Dimas staff in the delivery of groceries to seniors in the community as part of the San Dimas Cares Project initiated by the City of San Dimas Parks and Recreation Department. The volunteers would prepare 50 to 100 packages of food supplies every Thursday and deliver them to seniors in the community, so they don’t have to go to the City’s designated location to pick up the food themselves.
The Tzu Chi volunteers had never expected anything in return for their community service. Still, they appreciated that the California State Senate and City of San Dimas had recognized their efforts.
A Collaboration Firmly Rooted in Care for the Community
Timothy Pagano, the City of San Dimas Recreation Manager, presented the certificate of recognition to Tzu Chi volunteers on behalf of the City and expressed his gratitude.
Timothy said that after the Governor of California announced the lockdown at the end of March, City of San Dimas councilmembers proposed a care project in early April. They hoped to take care of seniors in the community and prevent them from going out for food supplies, which would increase their risk of being infected by COVID-19.
It just so happened that Jackson Chen, CEO of Tzu Chi USA and Dr. Han Huang, Tzu Chi USA’s Deputy Chief Executive, had delivered personal protective equipment (PPE ) to the City of San Dimas on April 10. When they learned that the City was discussing how to implement a “care project,” they immediately expressed their willingness to help.
The offer of collaboration was welcomed given that, as Timothy shared, Tzu Chi USA has ample prior experience in food distribution activities. With Tzu Chi volunteers’ support, the San Dimas Cares Project was launched on April 16 and continues to this day.
Initially, the San Dimas Cares Project obtained the list of seniors in need from a community center serving low-income households. However, due to the pandemic’s economic impact, the project extended its care from serving around 50 seniors to more than 150 in three months.
Timothy added that Tzu Chi volunteers’ visits to seniors in the community each week have further helped ensure their health and safety. During these home visits, Tzu Chi volunteers can also learn if some elderly residents need further support.
A Joint Effort to Bring Peace of Mind to Seniors
Tzu Chi East Los Angeles area volunteers are in charge of the food delivery to seniors conducted in affiliation with the San Dimas Cares Project. Volunteer Michael Tseng explains that the volunteers are divided into five groups each week, and are responsible for bringing food to between eight and 15 households, depending on the delivery route.
On July 22, volunteer Hsiumei Chen and her husband joined the food delivery. She shared, “Tzu Chi volunteers are very active in participating in the San Dimas Cares Project. I’ve registered to help several times, and it’s finally my turn to serve the community. This time, I’ve also invited my husband to help serve the seniors in the community together. We hope to help more people in need during this time, and continue to help the community.”
The genuine smiles of the seniors as they receive the delivered food are the participating volunteers’ most meaningful gift. It is evidence of the sense of relief and safety these vulnerable residents feel knowing how thanks to this program, they’ve been able to stay home and avoid the risk of catching the virus.
Sara Nino was happy to see Tzu Chi volunteers approached her door, and greeted them with a warm smile. She told them that she has diabetes, and after the state’s stay-at-home order, she’s been cautious to protect herself, and rarely goes out. This food delivery was allowng her, as well as her husband, to avoid stepping out due to necessity.
Carla Altman usually waits for Tzu Chi volunteers’ arrival on the sidewalk outside her home, prepared to transport the supplies by bringing a cart. She shared that even after COVID-19 continued to spread, she still tries to maintain the habit of going out for a walk, although she stays away from crowds. Helping her avoid the need to go to possibly crowded grocery stores is a clear benefit of this food delivery program.
As part of this care initiative launched by the CIty, some San Dimas residents come to pick up the free food instead. Ruben Garcia, a resident with six people in his household, is one of them.
Ruben shares that he has been retired for many years. However, the pandemic has impacted his whole family since they had to stay at home. Fortunately, his family is safe and healthy, but the household’s income sources have been severely affected, as everyone either suffered shorter working hours or sudden unemployment. Therefore, he’s glad the City is providing food assistance in time to help his family.
Robert Jackson is 80 years old, and he and his wife drove to San Dimas City Hall to pick up the free groceries. He shared that the pandemic has changed his lifestyle dramatically. He used to take a walk in the community every day, but now he can only stay in the backyard and chat with his 85-year-old next-door neighbor. They don’t dare to go anywhere, let alone grocery shopping in a crowded supermarket.
Robert said he was grateful to Tzu Chi volunteers for helping the City with food distribution, and felt safe when coming to pick up the food.
Launching Individual Case Charity Aid for Those in Need
Han Huang, who accepted the award plaque from the City of San Dimas on behalf of Tzu Chi USA, shared that while Tzu Chi volunteers participate in the City’s food distributions and deliver supplies to seniors, they also seek to offer additional care if needed.
As the program progressed, the volunteers brought feedback back from the field, having discovered that some of the seniors requiring food delivery suffer from significant health conditions as well, and would greatly benefit from more attention and aid.
For instance, some may have limited mobility due to a health condition, while others require specialized medical equipment such as an oxygen tank, making outings challenging. Moreover, in the case of those who live alone, help isn’t readily available.
Having learned of their needs, these seniors can now request additional help through Tzu Chi USA’s individual case charity aid program. In addition to food assistance, Tzu Chi volunteers will then provide them with the support they require.
City of San Dimas staff and Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters volunteers are also currently exploring additional ways of collaborating to assist such individual cases.
While participating in the San Dimas Care Project, Tzu Chi volunteers also seize this opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of vegetarianism and introduce Tzu Chi USA’s Very Veggie Movement promoting it. And, they give care recipients and City of San Dimas staff a letter from Dharma Master Cheng Yen, expressing her love and concern, and bookmarks with Jing Si Aphorisms encouraging vegetarianism.
In late July, California became one of the epicenters with the most COVID-19 cases in the United States. The mortality rate of the elderly from this disease is much higher than that of other age groups. Thus, we should continue to care for the seniors in our communities and build a network of protective measures to ensure their health and safety, which, as we can see in San Dimas, can be strengthened through collaborations such as this.
You can be a partner in such initiatives by adding your love and helping to support Tzu Chi USA’s missions and activities. Only by working together and protecting each other can we survive this pandemic.