Tzu Chi Seattle Volunteers Provide Comfort and Relief After the Babb-Malden Fire

Northwest  |  December 4, 2020
Michelle, a Babb Fire survivor, received Tzu Chi's Jing Si Aphorism book during a relief distribution event in September. She gave it to a student who suffered from anorexia after the fire. As a result of this act of kindness, the student’s condition has improved. On October 17th, Tzu Chi Seattle volunteers returned and brought her ten additional books to help bolster the spirits of her other students. Photo by Tiffany Lin.

Written by Chuanhsi Chang
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

At 6:30 AM on October 17th, nine volunteers from the Tzu Chi Seattle branch office loaded up their supplies and departed in three vehicles to the distribution site in Malden, WA. From dawn to noon, they drove for nearly five hours. Turning onto local roads from the highway, they headed toward the location of the temporary City Hall. The distribution site: a shipping container placed in the park with two tents, folding tables, and chairs.

With Confidence and Courage

In what has come to be known as a historic fire event, 80 fires erupted in Washington on September 7, 2020. In the small farming town of Malden, which only has a population of 200, 80% of the town’s structures were tragically destroyed. In Pine City, approximately half of the city was devoured by the fire. Volunteers from the Seattle branch visited the local Multi Agency Resource Center (MARC) on September 26th to understand the town’s post-disaster needs, and conducted on-site assessments followed by a relief event on October 17th in Malden, WA.

Volunteers arranged and prepared documents for the residents who came for assistance. As the pandemic persists, volunteers provided face coverings for any survivors who did not have one of their own. 

In a small ceremony before the distribution, volunteers and the residents sing "Love and Care," a prayer for an end to disasters, and for a future characterized by world peace. Photo by Herkait Seet.
Volunteers introduce Tzu Chi’s missions. Photo by Fandy Tsai.

The residents waited for their number to be called, then approached the volunteer’s table. While filling in the information, they recalled the panic and trauma brought about by the fire. At such relief events, volunteers always provide a mindful ear, listening with undivided attention, and speaking words of gentle strength and encouragement to help survivors persevere through the hardships they face. When the recipients learned of Tzu Chi’s cash cards, the shock of such aid brought them to tears. With confidence and courage, they accepted the cash card and supplies, and continued forward on the path of slow recovery.

Students with Anorexia

Michelle Van Dyke met Tzu Chi during a visit to the MARC on September 26th. Volunteer Shengli Tai learned that she’s a Spanish teacher at Rosalia School, and gave her a book of Jing Si Aphorisms in four languages, hoping to offer comfort and inspiration in this time of great sorrow. “It was just a thought at the beginning,” recalled Shengli. “I hope that Jing Si Aphorisms can be spread around in Malden.” Later, in a telephone interview to qualify the residents for aid, Michelle told the volunteers that the Jing Si Aphorisms had played an even more important role than initially anticipated.

I gave the book to a student who suffered from anorexia because he couldn't face the disaster. The student's health is coming back to normal because of Jing Si Aphorisms.

This time, the volunteers brought ten more Jing Si Aphorism books for her. Michelle held them appreciatively, and said, “I’ll use these books to encourage my students!” She also came to donate her very own homemade jam to the volunteers.

Shengli Tai provides comfort and support through Jing Si Aphorisms to Michelle (right), who lost everything in the fire. Photo by Mingchih Lan.
Michelle’s wonderful homemade jam. Photo by Tiffany Lin.

Too Old to Rebuild

When wildfire survivor Dennis Parham came to receive assistance, he informed the volunteers of his situation, and others who are in a similar position. “89-year-old Gordon Jacobs and his 97-year-old wife Joy Jacobs’s house was completely destroyed. Currently living in a motorhome. Gordon can’t come because he has to take care of his wife who has suffered a stroke,” he said, and the sense of hopelessness he felt was palpable. Volunteer Herkait Seet asked Dennis to lead the way for a visit to Jacobs’s current residence.

Gordon and Joy Jacobs’s home was destroyed by the wildfire. They can now only afford to live in a motorhome. Photo by Herkait Seet.

Gordon explained that they had been affected by wildfires twice in the past few years, and that they’re too old to rebuild. Therefore, they decided to buy a motorhome and park it where their home used to be. However, his wife who’d suffered a stroke couldn’t walk up the stairs. Seeing Gordon’s situation, the volunteers immediately issued a disaster relief cash card. Volunteers also thanked Dennis for his willingness to help others.

Unable to rebuild, an elderly couple decide to live in a motorhome for the rest of their lives. Photo by Herkait Seet.
Gordon takes a moment to read a Tzu Chi Journal. Photo by Herkait Seet.

Mission Possible

Gerry Bozarth is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) from Spokane County, Washington, who assisted with arranging the distribution. Gerry was assigned to supervise the Babb Fire, which doesn’t fall within his jurisdiction areas. “Although it’s uncomfortable to drive 110 miles back and forth every day, what’s important is to help the people in need in the disaster area. Five weeks have passed since the fire began and winter is approaching, we must ensure that all affected residents have enough resources to get shelter and survive through the winter.” Gerry looked up at the clear sky now, but knew the impact of wildfires on the environment. Next week, his team will test for harmful substances in the environment and work to remove them.

Seeing more volunteers like him driving back and forth for relief work, he said, “Tzu Chi’s willingness to come here from Seattle to help the people in need is really amazing!”

Gerry Bozarth (right), a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) from Spokane County meets Tzu Chi volunteers. Photo by Mingchih Lan.

Approaching a Warmer Autumn

As the last recipient left at around 2:30 PM, the disaster relief distribution was concluded for the day, and had benefited a total of 35 households.

After the volunteers cleaned up and packed the supplies, they sat down for lunch. It may seem that nine volunteers did all the work, but in fact, many volunteers were involved in preparing the supplies, documents, administration work, supplying contacts for the venue, and more. The careful participation of those behind the scenes are as important as those directly carrying out the disaster relief distribution, itself.

Volunteers behind the scenes prepare cash cards and supplies for the distribution event. Photo by Mingchih Lan.
Sticky rice and stir-fried noodles for volunteers to eat after the long drive are prepared by a volunteer named Hsinhua Wen. Photo by Tiffany Lin.

After having their meal, the volunteers made a special trip to the disaster area again. What they saw before them brought a deep sadness to their hearts as they beheld the suffering of losing everything. The charred and dilapidated houses, vehicles, and trees, reminded volunteers of the fundamental teaching of impermanence, and reminded them to always cherish that which sustains our lives.

In a telephone interview before the distribution, I got emotional when I heard the details about what happened to them. When I saw the burned houses and the survivors, my heart ached. This distribution was very hard and very difficult to bear. I’m tired, but our fatigue is really nothing compared to the suffering the residents face.

On the way back home, volunteers saw signs of autumn along the way — warm-colored leaves blanketed the earth. Indeed, the sun will set and rise again tomorrow, and volunteers will continue to deliver their love.

Five weeks after the wildfire engulfed their homes, residents still strive to clean up. Photo by Tiffany Lin.

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