Written by Christina Chang
Translated by Melody Cao
Edited by Diana Chang & Dilber Shatursun
On a warm autumn day, five Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers parked their cars by the Day Worker Center of Mountain View, California. They took out bags filled with cloth masks, Jing Si Instant Rice and Noodles, as well as some of Tzu Chi’s signature red wooden charms. Their purpose was to visit families whose trailer homes stood by the railway, and to check in on their needs during the pandemic. Little did they realize that they’d see how close strangers can become – when the time is right.
Discovering an Unseen Community
Chi-Jen Huang, a Tzu Chi volunteer and coordinator of the Northwest Regional medical team, said that for the past ten years, Tzu Chi has held medical outreach events at the Day Workers Center. These outreaches provide free medical services that fill gaps between the uninsured and underinsured. However, service had been suspended since the start of the pandemic.
During another distribution, Chi-Jen discovered that there were many trailer homes nearby the railway. Prior to the pandemic, they’d been spread out, but since it began, the City of Mountain View designated new areas that brought these residents here. As Thanksgiving 2020 approached, Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers planned a trip to bring a few gifts and check in with residents to ensure they were doing alright. Many shared their troubles.
Meeting the Neighbors
Ida, a middle-aged woman, lives alone. She moved to the US from Peru just a few years ago and graciously welcomed Tzu Chi volunteers when they arrived. Though she’s stayed employed through the pandemic, she explained how costly it was to get by in Mountain View, where living costs are high in Silicon Valley. She further explained that many of her neighbors, also Spanish-speakers, were getting by with labor-based jobs like cleaning and babysitting. She also described how cold it would get at night in her trailer, and the volunteers promised to return next time with a warm blanket, warming Ida’s heart in the process.
Tzu Chi volunteers then met a young man named Erick, who was only eighteen years old. He arrived from Guatemala six months ago and was now working in construction. Like Ida, he also lived on his own. The day of the volunteers’ visit so happened to be his day off. With the help of a friend to interpret, he welcomed the volunteers and was glad to have someone check in on him. He expressed how much he missed that feeling now that he was thousands of miles away from home.
Another bachelor included 88-year-old Victor. Full of energy, he greeted volunteers with a smile on his face. Like Erick, he also emigrated from Central America and needed a neighbor to help interpret for him. That way, he was able to tell volunteers about his work as a masseuse, but that he was barely getting by. When he received the care package from the volunteers, he expressed his happiness with a cheerful smile.
Then, a few other neighbors recognized the blue and white uniforms they’d seen at medical outreaches. They explained to the volunteers how dramatically their lives had been impacted by the pandemic. Even though local organizations would provide free groceries, many would miss the opportunity because they were at work.
Blanca, a middle-aged woman from El Salvador, spoke no English at all. She works only four hours a week and lives alone. She told Tzu Chi volunteers she was in need of paper goods like toilet paper – an item in constant national demand.
Not too far away were Vincent, his wife, and their six-year-old daughter. He works as a maintenance worker, and like his other neighbors, had a hard time making ends meet. But, his daughter is his greatest motivation. When the volunteer asked if he needed warm clothing, he immediately said that the couple had enough, but he hoped that he could get a jacket for his daughter. Though their trailer was small, it appeared full of love.
A Ray of Hope Through the Holidays
As Tzu Chi volunteers went up and down the street, they ran into Ida again. She held a trash bag in her hands and had been picking up litter off the street. She told the volunteers that when she has the time and is able, she takes pride in keeping her community clean.
Ricardo is a young man in his early twenties. He escorted the Tzu Chi volunteers through the street and helped interpret. He also explained that residents were required to drive their homes away every two weeks for street cleaning. This, he said, caused a bit of regular mayhem and was challenging for many residents.
Nevertheless, though they each faced intense struggle, it was clear that there was a strong sense of community on this street. Neighbors tried their best to support one another through this crisis and maintain peace and cleanliness on their street.
With the holiday season fast approaching, Tzu Chi volunteers left with a hopefulness that they could return before Christmas, to spread holiday cheer, but to bring some much needed compassion and relief to this special and resilient community.