Written by Christina Chang
Translated by Melody Cao
Edited by Diana Chang, Ida Eva Zielinska
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was on the rise once again in many parts of California near the end of 2020. In response, in the afternoon of Friday, December 4, five counties in the San Francisco Bay Area announced that they would implement another stay-at-home order beginning two days later, at 10:00 PM on Sunday, December 6.
“We’re afraid it’ll be inconvenient to go out after the implementation of the stay-at-home order, so we have to hurry up and deliver the essential supplies before the order goes into effect,” Emily Polivka, a Tzu Chi volunteer in Silicon Valley, explained, as she rallied together an aid mission for the residents of motorhomes parked beside a railway line in Mountain View, a city in Santa Clara County, California.
Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region volunteers had visited the makeshift community twice recently to ascertain residents’ circumstances and necessities better. Closer to Christmas, they were preparing to deliver aid for the underprivileged households, the majority being low-income or undocumented families. However, with an imminent weeks-long lockdown and the cold weather descending, it was time to shift these plans into high gear and advance the relief distribution date dramatically.
The Tzu Chi team responded to the call out from Emily Polivka immediately and collected the living essentials they would provide within a day. They prepared the care packages on the morning of Saturday, December 5, which nine volunteers delivered that very afternoon, a day before the stay-at-home order took effect, hoping that these essential supplies would help the residents through the approaching cold winter.
All in all, they distributed 30 bags of supplies and Tzu Chi eco-friendly blankets, and 17 jackets. Each care package contained shampoo, body wash, soap, hand sanitizer, masks, socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and two packs of noodles and Jing Si Instant Rice.
A Story Inside Every Motorhome
This community arose after the City of Mountain View designated a stretch of road along the railway line through town as a safe place to park motorhomes since the start of the pandemic. Most of the residents dwelling in these homes on wheels are originally from Latin America, and everyone has their own story behind coming here to pursue the American dream.
Jauquin, who lives in a small, old RV, came to the United States on his own 20 years ago and is fluent in English. Still, he can only find temporary jobs to earn a living. Moreover, because of the pandemic, Jauquin’s income has decreased sharply. He was most thankful for the blanket and jacket he received from Tzu Chi as the temperature at night can drop below freezing these days. Moreover, he was also aware of his neighbors’ needs and happy about the help they were getting, too, telling the team, “I’m really grateful for you bringing clothes for us to stay warm during such difficult times.”
Jauquin’s community spirit had made itself evident even earlier. He had gladly offered to translate Spanish to English for the volunteers when they visited previously to help them communicate with the residents and learn about their living situation. He continued to provide his help this time, as well, as they distributed the care packages.
One of the care recipients, Victor, who the volunteers met as they went from home to home to distribute the supplies, is 88 years old. His son and daughter live back home in El Salvador, but because of the dangerous riots in his native country, Victor doesn’t want to go back. He’s been living alone in his motorhome for eight years. Fortunately, there are good neighbors like Jacquin taking care of him.
When Tzu Chi volunteers gave Victor a blanket and care package, he thanked them in Spanish and also took the opportunity to acknowledge the help he receives from his kind neighbor, finishing by saying, “And now, I have you delivering these living essentials to help me, I really appreciate it.” As Jauquin translated, he had tears in his eyes, his voice filled with emotion.
Blanca also came to the United States from El Salvador by herself. Because of the language barrier, she has limited job opportunities and only works four hours per week. But Blanca did the best she could with her limited means and managed to bring her daughter and four grandchildren over to the U.S. from El Salvador. The family had just reunited in the motorhome the day before.
So, when on December 5, the family received aid from Tzu Chi, which helped relieve some of their growing needs considerably, Blanca was profoundly touched. “We’re really blessed,” she exclaimed, then wished the same to the volunteers, saying, “May God bring you more blessings and give you more opportunities to give in the future. We don’t have any resources here; we’re so moved by your efforts in bringing these essential supplies to us.”
Ida, another resident of this community, came to the United States from Peru several years ago and lives alone. Although she has a part-time job, making ends meet in Silicon Valley is difficult, as the cost of living is so high. During their first visit, the volunteers promised to bring Ida an eco-blanket to help keep her warm at night, but she was at work when they came the next time. Finally, on this third visit, when she got the blanket and care package from the volunteers, she smiled, exclaiming, “Truly appreciated; thank you so much.”
When Michael, who is also living here on his own, saw Tzu Chi volunteers handing out supplies to motorhomes residents, he came over to ask if he, too, could get some help. Seeing that he was only wearing a shirt out in the cold, the volunteers immediately gave him a care package filled with essential supplies and a sleeping bag. Michael solely speaks Spanish, but with some translation help, he told the volunteers that it’s pretty chilly at night when he’s sleeping and exclaimed, “I’m really thankful to receive this sleeping bag.”
As the volunteers made their way along the street, they found more than 30 motorhomes stationed in the area, with all the residents originally from Latin America. Some were subsisting on earnings from temporary jobs while the rest have no employment whatsoever. Many residents shared their stories with the volunteers while expressing their most urgent needs.
A single mother with two children, a three-year-old son, and an 18-month-old daughter, hoped to get diapers. Another woman was short of toilet paper, which is widely out of stock during the pandemic. A couple who only have temporary jobs hoped to get a jacket for their six-year-old daughter. While a student, who recently arrived in the U.S. and now lives with his mom, was desperate to find a charging station for his laptop since their motorhome doesn’t have any, so he can join his high school classes online.
Heartwarming Care That Is Sure to Continue
It was evident that the daily necessities that most people have and take for granted are everyday challenges for the residents living in this community. Within two weeks, a team of 19 volunteers had mobilized and completed three visits here. Furthermore, the aid they provided was strategically timely, arriving before another weeks-long stay-at-home order took effect.
Tzu Chi volunteer Emily Polivka, who led the mission, summed it up, saying, “The City is about to be on lockdown. People are worried and don’t know what to do. I’m very grateful that we, Tzu Chi volunteers, took care of our own family and were also able to help the people in need in the trailer home community.”
Before dark, as Mountain View was preparing for lockdown, a wintery breeze sweeping along the street beside its railway line, there was cause for joy inside the motorhomes parked there. The residents could enjoy hot noodles or Jing Si Instant Rice, covered in cozy eco-blankets, and feeling warmth in their hearts knowing that they’re not alone as their needs are being met.
After completing this distribution, the volunteers were already planning the next steps in this aid mission: To learn more about the community’s residents to fully assess needs, establish individual care cases, and launch longer-term assistance. With your love and support, missions such as this can continue and flourish, bringing care to even more people in need.