Staying Compassionate and Focused on Service During COVID-19

Mid-Atlantic  |  August 14, 2021
On April 4, 2020, after receiving news that Narberth Ambulance is asking the community for help to protect its team, Tzu Chi volunteers deliver the badly needed masks to the station. Photo/Hsihui Chang

Written by Philadelphia Service Center Documentation Team
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

In 2020, many of the Philadelphia Service Center’s normal projects and operations were delayed or canceled due to the COVID pandemic. Rather than allowing these circumstances to deter volunteers from their overall mission of delivering compassionate charity services, they instead chose to view this unique situation as an opportunity to help even more people who were suffering both the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic.

On April 10, 2020, at the request of the care facility at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Philadelphia, volunteers deliver masks there to help protect its residents. Photo/Hsihui Chang

Of primary concern during the initial months of the pandemic was the availability of PPE (personal protective equipment). Thanks to our generous donors and dedicated volunteers, the Service Center was able to deliver badly needed masks to numerous organizations such as homeless shelters, churches, hospitals, ambulance stations, and fire stations. In particular, mask distributions to local first responders and other members on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic demonstrated our solidarity with and deep appreciation for their dedication and service to the community.

On May 4, 2020, volunteers travel to the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center to deliver requested masks for medical professionals working at that facility. Photo/Robert Hu
On September 16, 2020, assisted by the City of Philadelphia, Tzu Chi volunteers hold a relief distribution at the Penrose Elementary School for 27 families devastated by Hurricane Isaisa. Photo/Chuang Feng Shih

Regarding the Service Center’s regular charity services, the focus was on finding new and creative ways to continue providing services in the face of unprecedented challenges. These included, for example, carrying out food pantry distributions at multiple elementary schools in low-income areas of Philadelphia while carefully obeying limitations on indoor group gatherings. This meant that, for several months through the entire winter, volunteers set up small distribution stations outside of schools. The setup required volunteers to transport donated furniture and supplies as well as stand in the winter weather so that parents could safely come and receive their food bags.

On October 20, 2020, responding to a request from Edward Steel School counselor Jamesetta Goll (left), volunteers donate and deliver tables and chairs to families in need for their children’s distance learning at home. Photos/Josh Chang

The pandemic also created other challenges for parents. Many children taking online classes at home didn’t have the necessary set-up for study, such as a table and chair to sit on and do their schoolwork. Volunteers organized door-to-door drop-offs of donated furniture and personally delivered these items to students’ homes.

In August 2020, Hurricane Isaias damaged or destroyed many homes in Philadelphia and surrounding communities. Although vaccines were still unavailable at the time, the volunteers fearlessly visited local schools to assist hurricane survivors, distributing blankets and food items in addition to financial aid in the form of prepaid debit cards.

Volunteers are able to provide essential VITA tax services in 2021 by taking a hybrid onsite-remote model to ensure the safety of both clients and volunteers. Photos/Sueling Wang

As 2020 came to a close, volunteers still found a way to hold their annual winter distributions despite the pandemic. They pre-packaging hats, scarves, gloves, coats, etc., in festive wrapping paper, so they were ready to be quickly and safely picked up by families in need and brought home for the holidays.

Last but not least, with much determination and creativity, the Service Center adapted its operations in early 2021 to safely and successfully carry out its yearly free VITA tax-filing service for 167 families.

With the Delta variant threatening to bring new challenges to our communities, it’s difficult to predict when or how the pandemic will end. What is certain is Tzu Chi volunteers’ compassion and resolve to always do everything they can to find ways to continue their mission of alleviating suffering and putting a smile back on people’s faces.

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