Tzu Chi’s Third Hurricane Ian Relief Distribution in Fort Myers Welcomes New Friends

Southern  |  November 22, 2022
Volunteers quickly unload supplies for the Hurricane Ian relief distribution. Photo/Qihua Luo

Written by Qihua Luo
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

Volunteers and Hurricane Ian survivors share a moment of calm, praying for a world free of disasters at the beginning of Tzu Chi’s disaster relief event in Fort Myers, FL. Photo/Qihua Luo

At 9 AM on October 30, 2022, a bus from Miami, FL, parked just outside the main entrance to the Boys & Girls Club of Lee County. Then, dressed in their signature blue and white uniforms, Tzu Chi volunteers exited the vehicle carrying essential supplies to the venue without delay. At the same time, 24 volunteers from Chicago, New York, Washington, and beyond were en route. 

October 30 marked the third collaborative Hurricane Ian relief distribution organized by Tzu Chi and the Boys & Girls Club of Lee County in Fort Myers. On this day, 566 impacted households received relief from 10 AM to 5 PM.

Finding Warmth in Small Moments

In order to ensure a successful relief distribution, 71 volunteers were divided into groups, each led by experienced team leaders. Before officially welcoming attendees, Changzhi Cai and Mingzhe Lin, the persons in charge of the distribution, gathered all the volunteers together to share words of encouragement. Ready for a day of love and relief, volunteers greeted care recipients with high spirits and heartfelt smiles.

While Hurricane Ian survivors at the distribution awaited their turn, Tzu Chi volunteers Susan Chou and Shumiao Xie from New York engaged in interactive games that boosted spirits, and generated a truly all-encompassing warmth. 

Shumiao Xie invited attendees to raise their voices in song. At first, most smiled shyly. But then, as their joy grew, more and more people sang together, louder, and with more laughter. After everyone received their very own cash cards, Susan Chou and Shumiao Xie also prepared Jing Si aphorisms from Dharma Master Cheng Yen for everyone. Hurricane Ian survivors left the venue feeling a little lighter with the words of gentle wisdom they had selected.

Tzu Chi volunteers listen intently as care recipients share experiences. Photo/Qihua Luo

Love Knows No Borders

At 6’2 in height and wearing a jacket bearing NASA’s iconic logo, Vincent Williams was accompanied by his two sons. He gasped as he thought of the day the hurricane made landfall — the water soon surging up to his neck. After the disaster, he received help from local organizations and learned about Tzu Chi from his sister. When he came to the relief site, he felt the warmth of a loving home. “I saw that love knows no borders,” Vincent expressed.

Betty Guardia holds a Tzu Chi care package containing a DA.AI Technology eco-blanket. Photo/Qihua Luo

Twenty years ago, Betty Guardia moved to the United States from Bolivia with her four daughters, her greatest wish that her daughters could live a good life. Although her daughters are now adults and can help with home repairs, the level of damage had created an enormous financial hurdle for Betty. Reflecting on the situation, Betty couldn’t help the tears that sprang to her eyes. Betty’s daughter, who accompanied her, looked at her mother in distress and said to the volunteers, “The cash card you gave is a timely help. It can help us solve our urgent problems.”

We come here from different countries, but we share the same positive energy.

Making New Friends

Volunteer Enchang Fan helps carry supplies. Photo/Qihua Luo

Sixteen-year-old Enchang Fan stood bewildered at the scene. This was the first time she’d participated in a disaster relief distribution since becoming a Tzu Chi volunteer. It was only two months ago that she became acquainted with Tzu Chi through the introduction of her mother’s friend. Enchang is deeply genuine, and shared that volunteering was initially part of her preparation for her college application. As an assistant to the distribution team, Enchang sends verified data to the technology team to apply for relief funds and responds to diverse needs. On the surface, it seems simple, but it plays a substantial role, indeed. Meeting and listening to survivors at the distribution strengthened her love and commitment to service, and she hopes to continue volunteering.

Tzu Chi volunteer Antonio Escobar shares the origin of the bamboo bank with a Hurricane Ian survivor at the relief event. Photo/Qihua Luo

Another new volunteer on the scene was Antonio Escobar, who seemed to be among the event’s most active and engaged volunteers. Throughout the relief distribution, Antonio offered his aid as a Spanish translator, attending carefully to survivors’ needs and patiently explaining everything they needed to know. 

Antonio’s introduction to Tzu Chi came from a professor who’d casually asked him a question two weeks prior: “do you want to help others?” He had never participated in activities like these before, and October 22 was his first relief distribution. Yet, he took to it naturally. “First, before I even knew any Tzu Chi volunteers and just watched from the perspective of a bystander, I found that they never asked for anything and just wanted to help,” Antonio said. “When I saw how the expression on peoples’ faces changed from sorrow to happiness, it made me feel like, ‘Hey! I am really helping others.’ So I came to participate in the distribution again after a week, and this time I was more immersed.”

There comes a time in our lives when we want to be helped by others. Then, why not come and be a helper for others? That’s what I think.

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