Serving Soup for the Soul at the Children’s Inn in Bethesda

Greater Washington D.C.  |  September 4, 2019
Tzu Ching prepare dinner for children at the Children’s Inn. Photo by Wendy Tsai

Written by Ruby Chen
Translated by Qingjun Wei (from Chinese)
Edited by Dilber Shatursun

Illness in children can take a heavy toll on parents, close caregivers, and the entire family. Tzu Chi volunteers from the Greater Washington D.C. Region Office decided they could use a break. On August 4th, they brought the groceries and supplies they needed to make a vegetarian, home cooked meal for children in research and treatment and for their parents at the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health.

Cooking for the Whole Family

This has been a long lasting tradition for volunteers of the Greater Washington D.C. Regional Office. This year, most of the volunteers came from Tzu Chi’s youth association, Tzu Ching. They bought vegetables, drinks, and desserts. Once unloaded at the Children’s Inn kitchen, they divvied up tasks from prep, including washing and chopping vegetables, cooking, and serving. Within an hour and a half, volunteers prepared an entire table filled with food.

Volunteer Rudy Chen noticed one volunteer frying dumplings and spring rolls could use some help, so she volunteered to help cook sweet potatoes. She sliced them, dressed the slices in batter, and then deep fried them. But, Rudy rarely cooks at home, so frying was a learning process! After a few experiments, though, she is quickly on her way to cooking whiz.

Volunteers brought groceries to the Children’s Inn. Photo by Wendy Tsai
Volunteers collaborate on cooking dinner. Photo by Ruby Chen

While chopping vegetables, volunteer Jimmy Lei kept the mood cheery by singing to himself. Other volunteers in the kitchen joined in on the singing. Nothing is better than the joy of cooking dinner with and for family.

After food was ready to be served, children and their parents lined up, ready to taste the delicious meal. Many volunteers are students and college graduates who had not really cooked a meal from scratch before. Naturally, most of them were nervous about the results. But seeing food being depleted quickly from the serving trays, they were very excited that people enjoyed the food.

Enjoying Every Moment

At the dinner, Tzu Chi volunteer Susan Chen introduced the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation to everyone. She explained each dish volunteers cooked to an eager audience. The dinner was a great opportunity to exchange conversation and culture, and to bond.

For example, a 10-year-old, with nasal cannula on him, chatted up an older woman at the dinner table. Though he struggled to speak, they enjoyed a heartwarming conversation. Then, he went over to the piano in the dining hall to play. The music brought cheer to everyone feasting at the dinner table.

Dinner is ready. Photo by Wendy Tsai

Also present was a young teen from the Middle East. She approached volunteers for soy sauce. She told volunteers that she ate a lot of Chinese food back in her own country, like the dumplings and spring rolls that were part of the volunteers’ menu.

At a corner of the kitchen, a Tzu Chi volunteer was chatting with a child in Chinese. His dad said he likes Chinese culture and therefore learned some Chinese. The little boy introduced himself, talked about his favorite food and favorite animals. His mother told volunteers that they are very grateful to the Children’s Inn for it took them in when they felt most desperate.

Supporting Families

Besides cooking dinner, caring about and cheering up parents are as important. When a child is sick, parents as main caregivers often experience helplessness and frustration. Sometimes they are neglected and don’t have people to talk to.

When finished serving food, volunteers talked to parents and lent them a compassionate ear. They avoided asking questions that were too personal. Through conversations, volunteers wanted to show their support to the families.

Before volunteers packed up to leave, the manager of the Children’s Inn brought them a thank you card signed by all the families who dined with them. One wrote, “we appreciate the love and delicious food. Thank you.”

Another wrote, “We appreciate your support to our families. Your food is delicious. We are thankful to partner with you!” One person expressed their gratitude, too, but added that their portion left them wanting more.

The thank you card volunteers received. Photo by Ruby Chen

On the way out of the facility, Tzu Chi volunteers passed a donor recognition wall. This reminded them of the spirit of generosity and charity. 

With a modest contribution, you, too, can help Tzu Chi volunteers continue to show love and care to children and families in need.

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