Written by Shuli Lo, Roger Kao
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters volunteers held their annual Back-to-School Program event at Alhambra High in Southern California to distribute backpacks, stationery, and cash cards. The initiative launched in 2016 and is in its seventh year of operation in 2022.
Before the start of school every year, Tzu Chi volunteers in Central and Western Los Angeles work with the Alhambra Unified School District to prepare back-to-school backpacks, stationery, and a $50 cash card for students from low-income families in the community. The program helps children be ready for the start of school, allowing them to study with peace of mind and be on par with their peers. A total of 230 students from 19 schools benefited this year.
Cash Card Value Adjusted to Inflation
Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters volunteers have served the Alhambra area since 1989, striving to understand the community’s needs thoroughly. The Back-to-School Program every August is one of their most important projects. The care recipients comprise the most vulnerable families identified by the school district among 19 schools, including low-income households, those experiencing homelessness, foster families, and other families at risk.
At this distribution, Tzu Chi provided 230 children with brand-new backpacks and stationery items by category of kindergarten to second grade, third to fifth grade, and sixth to twelfth grade, tailoring them to children of different ages and genders before carefully preparing suitable school supplies. And, given the circumstances of 2022, with the pandemic still present, masks and rapid COVID testing kits were also provided. Finally, considering rising prices and inflation, Tzu Chi also increased the cash card value from $30 issued in previous years to $50.
And the Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters team made changes to make things easier for care recipients. Flora Yeh, who was in charge of this distribution, shared, “This is our first attempt at distributing at 5 to 7 PM on Friday, since previously when we distributed on Saturday or Sunday, many parents missed it due to work on Saturday or church on Sunday.”
Relieving the Worries of Struggling Parents
The parents who came to the distribution were grateful for the helping hand. Rosa Rodriguez, one mom, said: “These gifts are really useful, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic when many parents are struggling to prepare school materials for their children, on top of rent, work, and other bills. This has been very helpful to us, it’s a blessing, and I want to thank you for this gift. The cash card will be used to buy something my child needs, like shoes or something else.”
The students were also thrilled with the gifts, although some, like Rosa’s youngest son, Aron Santos, who is about to enter third grade, were still focused on enjoying the end of their summer vacation.
Violeta, another student, immigrated to the United States two years ago and already speaks fluent English. She came to collect backpacks with her aunt and younger cousin and was particularly excited about the mini crayons inside as she loves to draw. “They are so cute! My wish is to be an artist,” she exclaimed.
Helping the Students Helps Their Whole Family
One of the parents at the distribution, Stacy Ruiz, is a foster parent. After her three children grew up, she lovingly became a foster mother of five children. “This is my blessing,” she said, “I’m very grateful for your gifts, and the back-to-school backpacks are very helpful to the children.”
Talking about her experience as a foster parent, Stacy recounted that she initially adopted only one daughter but discovered that she had several siblings who were about to be adopted separately. Stacey intervened, explaining, “I don’t think they should be separated. I want them to be together; they are also entitled to enjoy every opportunity in life together. I want to help them continue their education and become better people.”
Each family shared their life situation with the volunteers and why this aid was crucial for their household. Juan Candrayg came to collect the backpacks with his older kids, a son, and a daughter. This family had just welcomed a newborn baby too, and although the parents are happy, they’re also worried about the increased expenses.
Juan’s daughter, Hazel, has been worrying about not having the school supplies she needs when school starts. When she saw everything in her backpack, she exclaimed gleefully, “There are so many things here to prepare me for fourth grade. I won’t have to be worried anymore!”
The distribution was a great success and so valued in the community.
Behind the 230 students who benefited from this 2022 Back-to-School Program event at Alhambra High in Southern California are different stories and expectations for life and the future. Tzu Chi took care of every little detail in the distribution process, hoping to assist the children on their path to success as they grow up.