Written by Wendy Tsai, Benny Cheng, Kevin Chung
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
In the parking lot of Tzu Chi USA’s Greater Washington D.C. Region offices, traces of raindrops were still visible on the ground. Although the showers had stopped, the damp chill in the air reminded everyone on site that fall had arrived, and with it, flu season.
On September 26, 2020, more than thirty Tzu Chi USA volunteers gathered here to prepare for the Greater Washington D.C. Region’s second food distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides providing food, Tzu Chi was offering free flu shots for local residents as well.
“There are about 70 households who will come to pick up the food,” Frank Chen, Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Greater Washington D.C. Branch, said. To facilitate social distancing, volunteers designed a drive-through distribution method so that the families would be able to pick up the food supplies quickly and safely.
Seeing all the volunteers rushing about, Chen added, “We started preparations two weeks ago through local government officials and social workers in Fairfax County, and our volunteers notified the families to come.”
The food distribution intended to help underserved families put food on the table, and seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they picked up the free groceries, the event achieved its objective.
Several members of the community also participated by offering a helping hand during the distribution. Stephanie Diloreto, one of the local volunteers who was joining the Tzu Chi team for the first time, learned about Tzu Chi USA from a colleague and was glad to help out.
On this day, Tzu Chi USA also made free flu shots available to families in need. Over the past few years, in advance of the fall season, Tzu Chi medical volunteers would give free flu shots during local school district events to those without health insurance and low-income families. However, since this year, schools were closed due to the pandemic, the volunteers decided to offer flu shots at the food distribution.
Many local residents had received a vaccine from Tzu Chi medical volunteers in the past, and readily acknowledged their expertise. Dr. Hiro Huang and Joan Huang were on the team administering shots this time. Dr. Huang, already in his eighties, skillfully vaccinated patients of all ages. Even before many could respond, the shot was over, and volunteers were wiping the vaccinated area with a cotton ball. The team’s skill was complemented by many patients, who exclaimed, “It didn’t even hurt!” or “I didn’t feel it at all!”
As is the norm during Tzu Chi events, volunteers also took the opportunity to introduce Tzu Chi’s bamboo banks, sharing how even a little amount saved and donated regularly will pool to create ripples of good in the world.
For some who came to the distribution, it was a chance to bring in the bamboo banks they had received at previous events. For example, Maria Martinez and her mother brought back two bamboo banks full of coins saved with love to help those in need. Maria and her family first met Tzu Chi volunteers more than a decade ago!
Maria’s mother knew that their love would help serve more people in need through Tzu Chi’s activities. Although she doesn’t speak English well, she expressed her sentiments in a few words, which touched the volunteers: “Thank you for everything. I’m happy because of you.”