Supporting Students With the YMCA of West San Gabriel Valley

National Headquarters  | December 8, 2021
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Students happily wear backpacks donated by Tzu Chi. Photo/Shuli Lo

Written by Shuli Lo, Jennifer Chien  
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Diana Chang, Adriana DiBenedetto

Parents who are front-line and essential workers faced a seemingly infinite number of concerns regarding their children’s health and safety during the spread of COVID-19. And so, when Tzu Chi volunteers from the San Gabriel Valley Service Center discovered that the YMCA of West San Gabriel Valley in Alhambra, CA, had been holding daycare services for parents who must work during the pandemic, they knew they had to help. Tzu Chi volunteers set out straight away, providing 25 backpacks full of school supplies on January 19, 2021, and distributed them to the children of front-line workers and low-income families at the local YMCA.

Building Bonds During Distributions

For many years, Tzu Chi volunteers have collaborated with the Alhambra Unified School District to hold monthly food distributions for low-income families in the community at Alhambra High School. Through these events, volunteers nourished a valued friendship with Valarie R. Gomez, the CEO of the YMCA of West San Gabriel Valley, which graciously assists in organizing food distribution services.

Valerie R. Gomez, CEO of the YMCA of San Gabriel Valley, assists Tzu Chi with distribution services. Photo/Shuli Lo

Due to a fire at the Alhambra High School in December of 2019, the venue could no longer be used for community distribution events. Upon being contacted by community leaders such as Valerie Gomez, Tzu Chi shifted locations to the Gabrielino High School in San Gabriel under the Alhambra School District. 

During the pandemic, Tzu Chi volunteers’ drive-through food distributions ensured families could obtain essential groceries with minimal contact, as volunteers loaded carefully pre-packed groceries into the trunks of cars. All volunteers check their temperature, observe social distancing guidelines, and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at such events. Aiming to serve more people through this challenging time, Valerie Gomez also organized a team of volunteers to participate in Tzu Chi’s food distributions.

At the end of 2020, James Chen, the head of Tzu Chi’s San Gabriel Valley Service Center, visited the YMCA of West San Gabriel Valley to express gratitude to Ms. Gomez and exchange additional proposals for collaboration.

Helping Ease Parents’ Minds

During the visit, James Chen and Tzu Chi volunteers learned that the YMCA still provided child care services to the community during the pandemic so front-line medical workers, police officers, and more people unable to work from home could bring their children to a safe place where staff and volunteers can assist in caring for the children, and guide them through their online courses.

Ms. Gomez explained that the service provided by the YMCA is in response to the closure of schools, as children require the internet for remote education. Therefore, the YMCA provides venues and staff to help care for the children of parents who need to work away from home.

James Chen discusses future collaborations with Roger Kao and Valerie Gomez. Photo/Shuli Lo

“We provide tutors to help the children. Their parents send their children at 7:30 in the morning and pick them up at 5:30 in the afternoon,” said Ms. Gomez. “The children can stay with us from Monday to Friday. We provide children’s breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks so that parents at work can rest assured and focus on their work. We are really happy to receive the supply donation from Tzu Chi.”

Furthering the Power of Love and Care

Ms. Gomez cares deeply for the children at the YMCA, and was grateful to see the practical gifts Tzu Chi had donated. Upon opening a backpack and finding that it contained a complete set of school stationery, she was filled with excitement. As soon as the children received their backpacks, they happily opened the bags to search through the brightly colored supplies.

Children choose their own backpacks. Photo/Shuli Lo
James Chen (first right), who oversees Tzu Chi’s San Gabriel Valley Service Center, arrives at the YMCA of West San Gabriel Valley on January 19 to distribute backpacks full of school supplies. Photo/Shuli Lo

Ms. Gomez expressed her enthusiasm for strengthening the YMCA’s collaborative efforts with Tzu Chi. And, after reading about Tzu Chi’s environmental missions and support for a vegetarian lifestyle in Tzu Chi USA’s quarterly journal, she was interested in a future opportunity for volunteers to hold a fun, vegetarian cooking lesson for the children.

“The pandemic is severe. Although we couldn’t offer this service in the Tzu Chi service center, we were happy to use the power of Tzu Chi to care for the children of front-line workers and low-income families in the community. It’s very good to collaborate together.” 

James Chen, Tzu Chi San Gabriel Valley Service Center 

The prolonged impacts of the pandemic have generated many challenges, but your Tzu Chi family is here for you for the long haul. Together, we can do more for our communities and inspire a brighter future. 

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