Sowing Love in New Jersey Amidst Hurricane Ida’s Remnants

Mid-Atlantic  | October 5, 2021
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Volunteers listen to and comfort survivors at the relief distribution. Photo/Wankang Wang

Written by Ivy Wong 
Translated by Sophie X. Song
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On September 1, 2021, the remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through New Jersey, bringing heavy rainfall to multiple cities overnight. Many homes and streets were overwhelmed by the resulting floods.

Homes Destroyed by Floods

On September 15, volunteers from Tzu Chi’s New Jersey chapter, accompanied by Stacey Kelly, a Somerset County Detective, drove to the city of Manville to assess the damages left by the storm. Detective Kelly explained the situation to the volunteers as she drove, motioning to the soaked furniture and debris piled high on the edges of the road. Trucks carried loads of sludge and mud away to clear the way forward. 

After that, the volunteers traveled to Lambertville, one of the most severely affected cities in New Jersey. A Red Cross staffer introduced them to the Mayor of Lambertville, Julia Fahl, from whom they learned more about the storm’s aftereffects. With determined hearts and information at the ready, volunteers went in person to severely flooded residential areas nearby for assessment. Volunteers saw many houses experienced damages that rendered them uninhabitable and displayed red labels denoting the conditions. With many shops on the street closed and most homes already vacated, the once-popular tourist location known for its unique cultural atmosphere was all but deserted. The roads were coated with soil and muck, and a musty odor hung in the air.

Tzu Chi volunteers assess the situation in Manville with Detective Stacey Kelly. Photo/Wankang Wang
Volunteers speak with Mayor Julia Fahl. Photo/Wankang Wang
Red labels like these on homes indicate that they are no longer habitable. Photo/Wankang Wang

Collaborating to Provide Relief

On September 22, Tzu Chi participated in distribution services organized by the American Red Cross and Somerset County Government at the Multi-Agency Resource Center in Bound Brook. On their way to the resource center, 11 Tzu Chi volunteers saw that the streets were still filled with discarded furniture and debris from the flood. After unloading supplies from their cars, the volunteers spoke with other agencies to ascertain the best way to organize the distribution. Space was limited at the venue, and the spread of COVID-19 remains a pressing concern. Some households had lost the use of their car due to flooding, and as such, the county government also arranged for deliveries on that day. As the event got underway, Tzu Chi volunteers took care of families referred to them by the American Red Cross in a safe and orderly manner. Most survivors’ homes had been completely destroyed or seriously damaged. They showed volunteers videos or photos on their phones, and described their experiences on that terrifying night with volunteers providing their full attention. Movlett Taylor, who had been temporarily displaced by the storm, expressed her story in vivid detail. 

“Both my mother’s and my houses were flooded,” she explained. “We are living out of our car, while my daughter is staying at a friend’s temporarily.” It was an experience shared by many survivors who received supplies that day. During difficult times like these, sincere support and an attentive ear mean a great deal, indeed, and the much-needed cash cards offered by Tzu Chi volunteers can be used to ensure families have the essentials they require. Volunteers made sure families knew that they were not alone as they faced the uncertainties of the future. When survivors in attendance heard that the donations came from people all over the world, many were moved to tears at the love they felt.

Faye Evans, the Community Engagement and Partnership Lead for the American Red Cross, represented the organization locally at the distribution. She also expressed her gratitude for Tzu Chi’s participation:

Whenever there is a disaster, Tzu Chi volunteers are always there, helping those in need with kindness and compassion.

Faye Evans,
Community Engagement and Partnership Lead,
American Red Cross
American Red Cross representative Faye Evans expresses her thanks for Tzu Chi's help and collaboration. Photo/Wankang Wang

A first-time Tzu Chi volunteer, Shaoyan Ye, listened to survivors’ emotional stories and was deeply moved, saying, “This natural disaster has caused people to lose their homes, properties, or even lives in an instant.”

Upon comforting flood survivors at the distribution, Shaoyan Ye felt that she should cherish every moment and use her time wisely to continue helping people. Photo/Wankang Wang

Woven With Love

Volunteers wrapped up the distribution at 7:30 that evening, hearts full of love for the community. They drove home accompanied by the moon and the stars. However, the day’s events were not over yet. Cifu Huang was driving home with leftover eco-blankets in his car when one of his tires blew out. He pulled over to the side of the road, feeling worried and a little overwhelmed after a long day. Two police cars with flashing red lights stopped by, and Huang explained the situation. Seeing that it was already late, the officers called a towing company to help send Huang’s car to a repair shop and offered to take the volunteers home personally. While waiting for the tow truck, Huang told the police officers about Tzu Chi and explained the process for creating their DA.AI Tech eco-blankets. The officers were amazed at the softness and mission behind the blankets, each of which was made from 70 recycled PET bottles. The officers were given blankets as well in thanks for their care and assistance. 

Tzu Chi's disaster relief cash cards contain the love of people all across the globe. Photo/Wankang Wang
Police officers take volunteers home after experiencing car trouble, and volunteers give each officer an eco-friendly blanket as thanks. Photo/Shaoyan Ye

Each eco-blanket is woven with the love of many passionate hearts and minds, and just the same, the love of one’s Tzu Chi family is a warming presence, indeed.

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