Seattle Lunar New Year Celebration Showcases Tzu Chi’s Impact

Northwest  |  March 30, 2024
Write Spring Festival couplets to send blessings and welcome the New Year
People welcomed the new year with Spring Festival Couplets writing and gifting “Fu” character. Photo/ Li Chin Wu

Written by Evelyn Cheng
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrew Larracuente

On February 11, the second day of the Year of the Dragon, Tzu Chi Seattle hosted the 2024 Chinese New Year Blessing Ceremony, inviting people from the community to join in the festivities, make good connections, and make wishes for the new year. A total of 172 congregants and 55 Tzu Chi volunteers participated in the event, including prominent politicians and businessmen from Bellevue, Seattle, as well as cadres and partners from Tzu Chi Seattle’s local community partner organizations. The scene was full of colorful lanterns and a lively atmosphere.

Good Fortune Aura Filling the Venue Guests Feeling at Home

According to an ancient Chinese dictionary, the character “Fu”, or good fortune, means that things are going well, while anything that does not well turn well. Therefore, “Fu” character calligraphy writing cannot be absent from the Chinese New Year celebration! At this year’s Chinese New Year celebration at Tzu Chi Seattle, a calligraphy master was present and wrote “Fu” characters on red and joyful Chinese New Year papers, delivering full blessings to every guest with every stroke of the brush. To welcome the Year of the Dragon, in addition to the auspicious “Fu” character, there were golden dragons leaping onto the paper, symbolizing the Year of the Dragon and the successive good fortune.

A man writing Spring couplets
The calligraphy is admirable. Photo/ Li Chin Wu
Spring couplets
May all be happy and well in the Year of the Dragon! Photo/ Li Chin Wu

In no time at all, the room was full of guests. Mayor of Bellevue Lynne Robinson took to the stage to give her speech, which was opened with “Congratulations and Happy New Year” in Chinese. In addition to best wishes to the participants, she expressed her gratitude to Tzu Chi, saying, “It is an honor to celebrate the Lunar New Year with all of you and to thank Tzu Chi for all the hard work that they have done in our community. They are a true community partner in Bellevue and neighboring communities and we are honored to have you here.”

Director of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Seattle took the stage to deliver a speech
Mr. Daniel K.C. Chen, Director General of TECO Seattle, took the stage to address the celebration. Photo/ Anne Chen

Mr. Daniel K.C. Chen,  General Director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Seattle, said in his speech that every time he visited the Tzu Chi office he always felt at home. He expressed his deep respect for Tzu Chi’s spirit of selfless dedication and was very thankful for Tzu Chi’s companionship in the community.

Today happens to be the second day of the Chinese New Year. As I just said, it's like going back to my mother's home ...... so every time we see Tzu Chi we feel as if we are meeting with our own family, everyone is treated equally without discrimination. So, I'm really grateful to Tzu Chi.

Rehabilitated Ex-convicts’ Road to Rebirth

Next was a rehabilitated ex-convict Michael Florez who took the stage to congratulate the new year and share his journey from the initial fear and helplessness after his release from prison to a brighter and renewed life. Crucial to this journey of rehabilitation was Tzu Chi’s influence and help to him.

In February 2021, when Michael was released from the county correctional facility, he was facing the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closed public transportation system. Lost and isolated, he had nothing but the $48 dollars given by the facility and the clothing he wore. He had no friends or family after 20 years behind bars, and his heart was filled with fear and confusion.

Fortunately, he remembered his parol officer’s phone number, a clue that eventually led him to Joseph Garcia, an instructor at the University of South Seattle’s reentry program, who not only encouraged him to continue his studies but also referred him to Tzu Chi. Even in the midst of the pandemic, Tzu Chi volunteers provided him with clothing, shoes, and other necessities. When he started school and needed a computer, Tzu Chi volunteers gave him a computer and patiently taught him how to use these modern devices, paving the way for his reentry into society. After Michael’s success in his studies, he heard about the Hunger Relief program initiated by rehabilitated ex-convicts in 2020, which delivers food to starving ex-convicts, Michael decided to expand the program to Hunger Relief 2.0., and led the initiative himself.

Rehabilitated man Michael Florez took the stage to speak
Michael Florez, a rehabilitated ex-convict, spoke on stage. Photo/ Li Chin Wu
Michael Florez makes a heart gesture
Michael Florez has been rehabilitated. Photo/ Li Chin Wu

When Tzu Chi volunteers learned about it, they donated a van for the initiative, which, in Michael’s words, “(make it possible that) the Hunger Relief program can be mobile and on the road”. According to Michael, in just a few short years, “Together Tzu Chi and I have delivered over 45 thousand lbs of food to the houses of my brothers and sisters who are impacted. Together we deliver more than food; we deliver the message of hope, love and compassion”.

“It’s an honor to be of service doing the work side by side as equals with Tzu Chi. For over 60 Thursdays, I have met Angela at the grocery store where she would buy food so we could deliver to my brothers and sisters. I am so grateful to Ruby, Angela and Laura for always providing me with wisdom in my time of weakness and struggles.” When Michael said that, he burst into tears; his left hand clutched the speech paper, as if the countless struggles and pains of the past had finally turned into a single drop of tear, which quietly vapored and vanished into the air. Applause thundered under the stage representing people’s joy and celebration of a new person and a new life!

The next speaker was another rehabilitated ex-convict Candice Baughman, a beneficiary of Hunger Relief 4.0. She served 77 months in a correctional facility, and after her release, she and her two children moved into her mother’s home. She met Michael when she was alienated and looked for help everywhere, “I remember the first thing he said, ‘It’s nice to meet you, you’re a fellow sister, let me know if you need anything’. I almost burst out in tears right there. I needed a lot and it was embarrassing”. What she needed most at that time was food, and when the Tzu Chi volunteers and Michael delivered the food to her home, she felt relieved, “I was so grateful we had food on the table to eat. My oldest son enjoyed the trail mix Michael delivered to my house. Both my sons had enough food they could pack something to eat later in the day at school.”

Rehabilitated Candace Baughman took the stage to speak
Rehabilitated ex-convict Candice Baughman gave a speech. Photo/Anne Chen
Candace Baughman smiling to the carema
Rehabilitated ex-convict Candice Baughman (second from left) smiled broadly in front of the camera. Photo/ Anne Chen

But for Candice, Michael brought not just food, but love and hope, and she feels she is an equally treated person in the eyes of Michael and the Tzu Chi volunteers, “We can all go to the food bank, stand in line and be handed food in bags and swept away quickly to allow the next person in line to be served. But Michael doesn’t do that. His greets and makes us feel special and important, most of all, not forgotten”. She is no longer alienated, she is not forgotten, she can follow her dreams and live her life equally with others. More importantly, she has been a Tzu Chi volunteer for many times, turning her life towards helping others in need.

Hunger Relief changes people’s lives because when we see Hunger Relief, we see Michael and when we see Michael, we see ourselves because Michel has been where we have been Lost, lonely, hungry and forgotten! Tzu-Chi, Michael. I thank you for never giving up and for keeping Hunger Relief alive for all our brothers and sisters!

Colorful Programs and Fun

After the touching speeches, there was a sign language performance by Tzu Chi volunteers, which conveyed the deepest love and warmth with silent words. Then, with a burst of joyful music, a group of lively and lovely children and adults flocked to the stage to perform the “Temple Fair”, escalating the joyful atmosphere to the peak, the audience all stood up, swaying gently to the rhythm, immersing themselves in the joy of the festivities.

The Chinese New Year is not complete without the Fortune Packets. People went up to the stage to receive the Blessing Cards and the Fortune Packets one by one. The bamboo banks also returned to the mother’s house, where the coins accumulated during the year were gathered for the benefit of all families. The guests also watched the Seattle and Tzu Chi USA Dazhong Sutra and Master Cheng Yen’s teachings. Aishah Ali, who came to participate in Tzu Chi’s events for the first time, said that she was deeply touched by Master Cheng Yen’s teaching that “no matter what faith you are in, what remains constant is to keep well intention in heart, do charity with hands, step on the path of truthfulness on foot”; she hoped to continue to take part in Tzu Chi’s activities, and to walk with Tzu Chi and sow more good seeds in the community in the new year.

At the end of the New Year Blessing Ceremony, everyone held a lantern and lit it up, so that the lanterns would continue, so is love! People prayed for a prosperous year of the dragon, good health, peace for all beings, and world peace. Further, people looked forward to the new year of 2024, when Tzu Chi volunteers could join hands with more people to deliver warmth and bring light to more hearts!

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