Tzu Chi Provides A Food Distribution To SoCal’s Underprivileged

National Headquarters  |  March 30, 2024
Tzu Chi volunteers distribute walnuts to citizens at the dried fruit booth. Photo / Hsin Yi Lee

Written by 
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Andrew Larracuente

The Southern California region is one of the most expensive areas in the United States in terms of housing and prices. According to statistics from the Public Policy Institute of California, about 20% to 25% of families in Southern California live in poverty. Many of the underprivileged can barely fill their stomachs, let alone afford nutritious food, making life difficult.

To deepen community care, on February 18th, 85 volunteers from the Inland Empire collaborated and cooperated to successfully hold a fruit and vegetable distribution event. These volunteers consisted of 27 Inland Empire volunteers, 13 Tzu Ching members from the University of California, Riverside, 30 Tzu Shao and their parents, and 27 local volunteers. Each of them actively seized the opportunity to do good in the community and put Master Cheng Yen’s teaching of “doing good deeds without delay” into practice.

Abundance of Tzu Chi fruits and vegetables, people waiting eagerly at dawn

At half-past seven in the morning, with the faint light of dawn, under the leadership of Commissioner Alping Li, two fruit and vegetable trucks arrived at the parking lot in front of Juanita B Jones Elementary School’s cafeteria. At this moment, people who came to collect free food had already surrounded the entire parking lot, and an orderly queue had formed.

Commissioner Alping Li supervised the unloading of goods and arranged them neatly. Tzu Chi volunteers and Tzu Shao each performed their duties, cooperated closely, and methodically arranged the venue. In just 30 minutes, the venue was set up and everything was ready.

Most food banks typically only provide dry goods, cheese, and one or two types of fruit. In order to take care of the health of the community’s gratitude recipients, Tzu Chi regularly purchases fruit and vegetable boxes every month, each weighing 18 to 20 pounds, containing a variety of vegetables and fruits, including walnuts, oranges, pears, low-sodium spinach, carrot slices, asparagus, chopped peas, long-grain rice, roasted almonds, frozen peaches, almond milk, and other healthy foods. The purpose is to ensure that community residents can enjoy a diverse and healthy vegetarian diet. This not only reflects deep concern for the health of community residents but also actively promotes vegetarian culture. The variety and nutritional balance of fruits and vegetables provided by Tzu Chi are well known locally, so every time the event begins at dawn, many residents come early to wait in line at the scene.

Due to the large number of people queuing at the scene, bustling and crowded, during the registration process for the citizens, volunteer Yuyan Lin cleverly arranged for five Tzu Ching and Tzu Shao members to manage the barcode registration. This ensures that everything is orderly. Gere Wang, a Tzu Shao member responsible for registration, explained, “The main purpose of the barcode is to speed up the whole process. Because every time they come, they used to register. Now, after they register for the first time, we use a machine to print barcode stickers with their names on them. Then, when they come next time, they just need to scan their wristbands and they can go directly to collect fruits and vegetables. We don’t need to review them one by one with paper, making the whole process smoother. We can help more people.”

Fruit and vegetable distribution full of love

Food distribution began promptly at nine o’clock, and Tzu Chi volunteers were busy distributing food to people one by one. Tzu Chi volunteers always have radiant smiles on their faces when distributing food and treat everyone equally without discrimination. Commissioner Alping Li explained, “Before distributing food, we just reminded volunteers and Tzu Shao to follow the rules of the food bank, which is to treat everyone (gratitude recipients) equally, and the food given to everyone is the same amount. We cannot discriminate against them based on their skin color, race, or physical condition. Our volunteers are doing very well in this regard.” With compassion and equality, every donation becomes a shower of warmth, nurturing every soul.

The lady who was first in line shared that she arrived at the venue as early as half-past six in the morning. She eagerly waited until eight twenty when the doors opened. She immediately received a barcode wristband, full of anticipation and joy, and received a whole car full of fresh fruits and vegetables. A radiant smile appeared on her face, filled with gratitude.

Some Tzu Ching and Tzu Shao members also thoughtfully helped elderly or physically challenged people push small carts to assist them in transporting food to their cars. Trang Bui, a second-year MBA student in business administration from the University of California, Riverside, and also a Tzu Ching member of the University of California, Riverside, was busy during the event, pushing carts of heavy food for at least ten people. But she enjoyed it very much. She said, “Today I helped push carts and transported heavy food for those who didn’t bring a car to get food. This way, they don’t have to carry such heavy fruits and vegetables themselves. Although it’s a tough job, I’m very grateful to be able to help our community. I will still come to participate every month. Thank you to the Tzu Chi Foundation for organizing these distribution events.”

Volunteers distributing tangerines
A variety of fruits and vegetables, including delicious oranges. Photo / Hsin Yi Lee
Volunteer pulling a food cart
Tzu Ching and Tzu Shao members help push food carts. Photo / Hsin Yi Lee

In order to avoid food waste, Tzu Chi volunteers also used small boxes on-site to collect food that people didn’t want and donated it to other families in need. It can be said that “a grain of rice and a mouthful of food should be cherished, as obtaining them is not easy; a strand of thread and a strand of fiber should be constantly thought of, as material resources are difficult to come by.” Loving and cherishing things and never wasting resources is the motto of Tzu Chi.

Due to the pandemic, fruit and vegetable distribution was a self-service drive-thru. Many people drove in. Now we have returned to meet with the public. Seeing everyone's smiles and being able to help them have food every month makes me very happy.

Second-hand clothing booth for loving and cherishing things

In addition to fruit and vegetable distribution, there was also a second-hand clothing booth, conveying the spirit of “there is no distinction between old and new clothes, only warm embraces.” At the second-hand booth, Tzu Shao carefully sorted and classified each piece of clothing before placing them on the shelves. Various types of clothing were hung on hangers, ranging from warm sweaters to light shirts, each meticulously arranged. Many people held onto the clothes unwilling to let go, some were delighted to find the right size, while others were attracted by a unique design.

The love of Tzu Chi was passed on by Xia who believes in a religion without borders and seeks mutual achievement. He brought three large bags of carefully organized clothes and went to the Restoration Church of San Bernardino, which is less than fifteen minutes away by car, to convey Tzu Chi’s love and extend a helping hand to 60 to 80 refugees in urgent need of clothing.

Tzu Shao pack second-hand clothes for the church
Tzu Shao help pack second-hand clothes for the church. Photo / Shengping Liu

Gabrield Gutierrez, who came to collect free fruits and vegetables, was moved by the love of Tzu Chi volunteers and expressed her desire to join Tzu Chi as a volunteer. She said, “I want to be a Tzu Chi volunteer for my community. I have family, not in this community, but in Northern California, and they need help. Then I know some close families who also need help, but sometimes they have a hard time getting assistance. That’s why I want to at least volunteer in the community.” For this reason, she specially signed up to participate in the Inland Empire free clinic on March 3rd, serving as a Spanish translation volunteer. Many more people join Tzu Chi like Gabrield, caring for the community, letting the light of compassion shine, and spreading great love everywhere.

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