Supplies Help Students in California Start School With Peace of Mind

National Headquarters  |  September 27, 2022
Students and parents collect backpacks together. Photo/Shuli Lo

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.

Parents and students line up outside the distribution site. Photo/Shuli Lo
The volunteers use pandemic safety measures during the distribution. Photo/Shuli

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.

The pandemic and inflation have brought financial constraints to many families. Through our little effort, we hope to provide some subsidies to children in need. Our greatest wish is to encourage them to change the future through studying.

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.”

Excited students who have just received backpacks listen intently to volunteers’ encouragement. Photo/Shuli Lo

Relieving the Worries of Struggling Parents

Inflation strains resources for many households, especially vulnerable ones; they may need to consider food and clothing before purchasing other non-essential items. Our distribution has greatly helped the children of these families. The current situation is that vulnerable families need more help, but resources and organizations that can provide them have relatively lessened. The backpacks, stationery, and cash cards we have prepared are just to give them a little help. We’re very grateful to have this distribution platform so that we could contribute together.

Students or their parents receive the backpacks one by one. Photo/Shuli Lo
A father brings along his son and a daughter to collect backpacks. Photo/Shuli Lo

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.

I’m excited to be in third grade and look forward to college and growing up. I don’t want to open this gift because I just received it, and it’s too soon to open it.

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.”

Foster mother Stacy Ruiz collects school supplies for several foster children in her family. Photo/Shuli Lo

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.

I really appreciate everything you’ve done to give the children the school supplies and uniforms they need, especially since we don’t have enough money to buy them. Thank you very much for everything Tzu Chi has done.

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!”

A little girl focuses whole-heartedly as she reads Tzu Chi’s publication “Inspiring Great Love Around the World,” while her little brother studies a pamphlet about Tzu Chi. Photo/Shuli Lo

The distribution was a great success and so valued in the community.

This event is fantastic, supporting families in need and helping equalize students by giving them everything they need to move forward. Tzu Chi has always provided food for disadvantaged families and taken care of their studies. Now there are more and more families in need of assistance; being able to work with Tzu Chi to help our students and families feels wonderful.

The whole volunteer team takes a group photo to commemorate the distribution event. Photo/Shuli Lo

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.

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