Written by Wendy Tsai
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane
On February 18, a fire broke out in a 15-story apartment building in Silver Spring, Maryland, killing one person, injuring 19 others, and forcing the evacuation of more than 400 residents. Tzu Chi Greater Washington D.C. Region volunteers mobilized immediately after the fire and conducted two consecutive distribution events to aid survivors in this difficult time and help them rebuild their lives in the wake of this tragedy.
Tzu Chi Mobilizes to Help Survivors
On February 28, 18 volunteers from the Greater Washington D.C. Region visited the Gwendolyn E. Coffield
Community Recreation Center in Montgomery County, Maryland, to care for the survivors. The volunteers were able to assist 39 families with their immediate needs, providing cash cards and DA.AI eco-friendly blankets.
Among the affected residents, there were some who were already living in difficult or precarious living situations before the disaster. Though the sudden fires disrupted their lives, the arrival of Tzu Chi was a ray of hope.
A woman from Central Africa who is studying in the U.S. was acutely affected by the disaster. With no family around to help her and a limited support network, she looked tired and uneasy and said that she had been losing sleep for days: “After the fire that day, I couldn’t sleep well at night because I was afraid there would be another fire.”
Genuine love can transcend background, economic circumstances, and creed, helping all those who are in need. Volunteer Pao Chu Hung thoughtfully presented her with a cash card and encouraged her with warm words: “No matter what your religion is, there is a God in everyone’s heart, and may your God help you gain the courage to get through your difficulties.”
Patrick Campbell, Senior Emergency Manager for Mass Care and Emergency Response DHHS, has been working with Tzu Chi for many years and is grateful for the financial assistance and support that Tzu Chi has provided the residents of the community, “I think there’s a real importance to be present, in person with folks and it kind of gives them that emotional support…and a kind of big community hug to remind them there are people who care.”
A Second Distribution to Bring Warmth to the Winter
On March 13, Tzu Chi USA’s Greater Washington DC Region joined the Montgomery County government’s second distribution to help those who could not make it to the first event. The day was cold and windy, and the sky was cloudy, but 11 Tzu Chi volunteers still came in high spirits to care for families in need.
Tzu Chi volunteer Zing Chen has known about Tzu Chi since she was a child and was grateful for the opportunity to volunteer, “Today is my first time participating in this kind of distribution and everyone took care of me. I feel very happy to be able to help people who are really in need.”
The families that visited the distribution were grateful for the personalized care and aid from Tzu Chi. After four weeks, most of the survivors have gradually begun rebuilding their lives. Compared to the uncertainty and anxiety during the first distribution, those who came to seek support were able to chat easily with the volunteers.
The timely help they received during such a life-altering crisis has made many think about how to pass on this great love.
One survivor known as Williams is a dog lover. His dog was with him at the time of the fire and was nearly lost in the blaze. He was overjoyed to keep his dog by his side and the experience inspired him to help stray dogs in need: “I spoke to my sister on the phone today, and she said there are many stray dogs in Jamaica that are not cared for by any organization, so maybe I can set up a non-profit organization and invite people to help them.”
The distribution ended promptly at 7:00 p.m. A beautiful sunset lifted the afternoon gloom, and the day ended brighter for everyone. Seeing the survivors leave in a joyful mood, the volunteers felt the joy of helping others deeply, and were proud to make a difference for the communities they serve.