Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region Provided Help in Response to Flooding in New Jersey

Mid-Atlantic  |  February 14, 2024
Volunteers not only distribute supplies but more importantly, comfort each and every survivor with their hearts. Photo/Wankang Wang

Written by Cifu Huang, Liting Jiang, Jenny Sun, Mingjing Yan, Wenqi Zhuang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane

What was forecasted to be a snowy day on December 18, 2023, was instead a torrential downpour that flooded the Passaic River in northern New Jersey; as well as the Pompton River, an upstream tributary. More than hundreds of homes in Passaic County were evacuated, and schools were closed. While many across the country were celebrating the holiday season, the survivors of the disaster had an exhausting Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Disaster and Relief Assessment

After the disaster, Doris Chang, Executive Director of Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region, received a call from the Red Cross about the severity of the situation and the urgent need for relief. After several days of assessment, four towns along the river were identified as needing emergency assistance: Lincoln Park, Little Falls, Pompton Lakes, and Wayne. With the assistance of the local Red Cross, Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region decided to launch a relief operation on January 6, 2014, at the YMCA Community Center in Wayne to distribute much-needed supplies to residents affected by the flooding. A total of 45 families were presented with eco-friendly Da.Ai blankets and cash cards.

A view of the devastation in Little Falls after the flooding. Photo/Liting Jian
Angel Chen, a San Gabriel Valley local, came to Tzu Chi USA’s National Headquarters on July 9th to help with the packing. Photo by Tom Chen.

Empathy at the Distribution

At 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 6, volunteers arrived at the distribution site with supplies and worked together to clean and set up the site. Before the distribution began, volunteers carefully read information about the disaster and shared a letter of condolence from Tzu Chi’s founder, Master Cheng Yen. They made copies of the letter to ensure that every affected family would receive this token of sympathy and solidarity. Doris Chang, Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Region, also reminded the volunteers to serve the survivors with love and patience throughout the event.

Executive Director Doris Chang and volunteers learn about the needs of the survivors. Photo/Wankang Wang

At the distribution site, volunteers set up a form-filling station, an information verification station, and a card-checking station, where volunteers carefully filled out information cards for the survivors, checked the information, and then issued a numbered card. This data was then compared with the information given to Tzu Chi by the Red Cross before distribution to ensure every in need receives the care and support they deserve.

Volunteer Benpu Feng introduced Tzu Chi to the survivors as they arrived to help them understand the goodness and love coming from Tzu Chi volunteers all over the world. After reading the letter from Master Cheng Yen, many survivors gained a profound understanding of the sincerity and love Tzu Chi volunteers feel toward those in need.

While survivors waited, volunteers also introduced the origin of Tzu Chi, the spirit of the Bamboo Bank, and explained how the eco-friendly blankets were produced. The volunteers sang “Love and Care” together with the survivors, and showed a video introducing the weekly food bank run by Tzu Chi Food Pantry in New Jersey, which is just a few steps away from their homes.

Volunteer Benpu Feng introduces Tzu Chi and tells the story of the Bamboo Bank. Photo/Jenny Sun

Volunteer Liting Jian was participating in a distribution event for the first time. She empathized with the affected families, shaking their hands, and watching the videos they had taken of the disaster on their cell phones. She patiently listened to them talk about their experiences during the flooding. 

It was also volunteer Huiting Zhang’s first time participating in a distribution. She held back tears as she interacted with the survivors. She felt that it was different from the scenes of disaster areas that she usually heard or saw in the media: “Interacting with the survivors makes me care about and understand their situation, and empathize with them more.”

Helplessness and Hope Behind Tired Faces

Although they all suffered from the same flood, every family at the distribution had a different story. Resident Gremner said that he had lived in the area for forty years and this was the first time he had encountered such serious flooding. He and his wife could not afford to pay for a hotel, so they had to live in their flooded house. They both suffer from heart disease and diabetes, and they knew cleaning up after the disaster would be a very difficult task.

Vesna, who works in a hospital kitchen, had to clean and repair her home by herself because her husband was recuperating from a heart condition. When she returned home from work each day, she saw the muddy ground and had to pull herself together to clean another area of the house. This process, combined with long hours at her job gave her little time to sleep each night. She was grateful to Tzu Chi for lending a helping hand to ease her worries.

Vesna speaks with volunteers, and volunteer Huiting Zhang listens attentively and empathizes with her. Photo/Fanglan Yan

Frederic, a young father, took out his cell phone to show a picture of his son, a baby with a happy smile. It is his first child, born in October 2023. He said that he wished his son a safe and successful life in the wake of  his first disaster. After receiving a notification about the distribution, Frederick went online to read about Tzu Chi and shared his admiration for the organization. He estimated the restoration of his home would cost at least $80,000; but he believes in the effects of goodness and love, and said that no matter what, he will do what he can to give back to the community and help others in the future.

Lucrecia is from Argentina and is a breast cancer survivor. She is still recovering from her treatment and is facing a lot of stemming from her fight with the disease. Her situation became even more difficult when her home heating stopped working, which led to low temperatures in her home causing her to catch a cold. She had to move into a hotel to rebuild her health. The cash card she received from Tzu Chi at the distribution will ease the financial burden of her hotel stay, and help her focus on recovering her health.

Recognition from the Red Cross

The success of this relief operation would not have been possible without the cooperation of Tzu Chi and the Red Cross. After the disaster, the Red Cross went door-to-door to check if residents needed help and to learn about the needs of the survivors. Knowing that Tzu Chi had the will and ability to help in the recovery effort, the Red Cross immediately contacted the Service Center to participate in the disaster assessment.

The Red Cross and Tzu Chi evaluate the distribution site and decide to hold the event it in Wayne, most central of the affected towns. Photo/Wankang Wang
Tzu Chi volunteers and the Red Cross workers are good partners in emergency relief, working together in disaster areas and spreading love. Photo/Wankang Wang

Red Cross Recovery Chief Joseph Poplawski has worked with Tzu Chi for many years and is very impressed by the work the two organizations have accomplished together. On January 10, the Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region received a thank-you letter from the American Red Cross and said that they would like to personally deliver a certificate of gratitude and attend the end-of-year gala party held on February 3rd in Tzu Chi Mid-Atlantic Region’s head office. 

We are grateful for the many organizations that have been helping the survivors in our community!

Despite the terrible disaster, it was fortunate that people did their best to brighten up the dark corners in the cold winter. This event once again revealed the power of unity and solidarity in the face of adversity.


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