The Little Things: Tzu Chi Thinks of Ukrainian Refugees’ Unmet Needs

National Headquarters  |  August 19, 2022
Tzu Shao Jieying Zhou and her mother, Yunquan Lu, helped organize clothes for Ukraine. Photo/ Shu Li Lo

Written by: Shu Li Lo, Jihuan Xia
Translated by: H.B. Qin
Edited by: Maggie Morgan

Right when summer started, Tzu Chi USA Headquarters sent out a message to the communities nearby in Southern California. The call was for compassion in action: a collection of new summer clothes for Ukrainian refugees. 

For the past few months, local volunteers and the Tzu Chi Youth Group (Tzu Shao) have been spending their weekends sorting the piles of clothes into items for adults and children. Clothing for men and women, in all sizes and for all seasons, was graciously donated to be sent to refugees in need. Volunteers carefully folded and boxed the clothing to be shipped by air to Poland and other Eastern European countries where refugees are currently calling home.

A Treasure Trove of Kindness

The Treasure HutHouse of Good Fortune is like a small department store with a wide range of clothes, shoes, household utensils, toys, and more Photo/ Shu Li Lo
Tzu Shao members sorted all the clothes as guided by volunteers. Photo/ Shu Li Lo

The war between Russia and Ukraine has forced more than 5 million Ukrainians to flee. Many have sought refuge in Poland and neighboring countries until it is safe to return home. Most of the refugees left Ukraine in late winter and early spring, taking with them only the bare minimum they needed to survive. 

Left without summer clothing, Tzu Chi volunteers sought to deliver them seasonal wear. Tzu Chi’s USA Headquarters launched a project to collect weather-appropriate garments and then transport them to Poland, hoping to help their stressful situation as much as possible.

The second-hand clothes we sorted will be sent to Ukraine and Africa. The volunteers sorted out the clothes donated by the community, so that on the one hand, the lifespan of the items is extended, and on the other hand, the people in the community have the opportunity to come to our campus to participate in the volunteer work. I'm really thankful that everyone's love is mobilized like this!

The endeavor is led by the Tzu Chi USA Headquarters campus’ “The Treasure Hut–House of Good Fortune”, made up of a team of volunteers including Jihuan Xia, Jiamei Zhou, and William, who are responsible for the collection, sorting and display of used and new clothes. 

They have transformed the second-hand clothing station into a department store setting, complete with seasonal clothes, shoes, toys, and daily necessities. The collection highlights the value of reusing our resources and extending the lifespan of items. As always, there is so much more behind this Tzu Chi initiative. As we seek to alleviate the suffering of all beings, we simultaneously act to prolong the life of Earth itself.

Jiamei Zhou is one of the regular volunteers at the Tzu Chi USA Headquarters’ "House of Good Fortune". Photo/ Shu Li Lo
Jihuan Xia, a volunteer in charge of the second-hand clothes recycling program at Tzu Chi USA Headquarters. Photo/ Shu Li Lo

“The Treasure Hut–House of Good Fortune” holds an extensive stock of secondhand clothes and complements the shortage of loading. “We have all kinds of clothes, in different sizes, for different seasons, we have everything”, explained Jiamei Zhou, “The clothes packed for the Ukrainians can be picked up from the House of Good Fortune if they are needed. Each material box is to be flown to Poland and Ukraine and has to contain an average of 50 pieces of clothes.” Thanks to the strong back-up of the Treasure Hut–House of Good Fortune”, the contents of each box were full of comfortable articles of clothing for everyone in need.

In the Spirit of Ants: Together We Can Do Anything

The clothing drive called for collections until June 25, 2022. After the initial announcement, clothes of all varieties began to appear;  Chinese Mutual Aid of Southern California immediately hopped on board, providing twenty boxes of brand new pants. A Burmese temple enthusiastically donated new polo shirts. The additions meant refugees would be receiving a wide array of items in their boxes, even clothing that had not yet been worn.

Sorting the piles of clothes proved to be a multi-faceted operation. Volunteers would have to sort the items and place them in categories to be delivered. The team at the House of Good Fortune provided valuable experience in sorting, packing, and loading; their efficiency and attention to detail helped the project be a huge success.

The community volunteers, Tzu Shao members, and Tzu Shao parents gave their weekend to the cause. Led by experienced volunteers, the team seemed to act like little ants, bustling along to do their part for the greater good. Each person had their own task of sorting, folding, and boxing items. They learned their positions quickly and immediately started to work on behalf of the refugees.

Volunteers sorted the second-hand clothes under the shade of a tree, folded them one by one, and sent them to the tent for packing.
Tzu Shao Weber Lai and Nan Zeng put Tzu Chi labels on the outside of each box. Photo/ Shu Li Lo

I am just a student, I cannot give the help that I wanted to give in my mind. Packing clothes for the Ukrainians allowed me to step up and help the people hurt by the war. It’s really a very special and meaningful experience for me.

Yuyun Liu, whose family just immigrated to California, brought her daughter during the Fourth of July long weekend to help with the effort. It turned out it was her daughter’s birthday, and the family planned on celebrating by packing clothes for Ukrainians. “I thought it would be the most memorable birthday gift for my daughter’s birthday to come over with her and help out, do something for someone in need,” she said.

Qiuyi Pu found out she could volunteer at Tzu Chi when she was hiking outside the campus with a friend. For her holiday weekend, she came to join the effort along with the other volunteers. When Qiuyi found out that the clothes she sorted would be sent to Ukraine and Africa, she was even happier to be there. 

She said, “I felt that this long weekend was especially meaningful because I was able to participate in the work to help refugees and do something good for society.”

Comfort and Hope in a Box

Many children in the U.S. may have their own challenges, but cannot fathom the hardship and suffering of facing war. The Tzu Shao students are no different, and they keep in mind Master Cheng Yen’s teaching, “Those who are at peace should be the support of those who are suffering.” These young humanitarians gave their hearts and contributed their time to Ukrainians who are far away, people they will never meet but who they know they can help. 

According to Tzu Shao parent Yunquan Lu, “It is a good exercise for the children to show their love, as well as learning that their current life is good, and helping the affected people is a meaningful thing.”

Tzu Shao Weber Lai carries the packed boxes to the freight concentration station. Photo/ Shu Li Lo
Tzu Shao Kyle Chen (right) and Eddie Dhakal (left) work together to carefully seal the boxes of clothes to prevent contamination in transit. Photo/ Shu Li Lo

It's a tough job, but it's worth it, and it inspires me to be willing to give more in the future. Every box of clothes we pack is not only a gift of hope to the Ukrainians, but also a sign of our love and care for them.

“We do a lot of things here that are meaningful to the Ukrainians and to us,” Tzu Shao Eddie Dhakal noted, “Because, while we are helping them, we are personally trying to make a difference.”

“In the past two days, we sorted all the clothes to make sure they were in better shape”, said Tzu Shao Weber Lai, who used his summer vacation to serve, “I know that Ukrainians don’t have a lot of money or supplies when they left home. So I hope these clothes can help them, give them a little more security and happiness during this difficult time.”

Tzu Shao Kyle Chen Lo was very uplifted after completing his day’s work and said, “I really feel like I can bring more to the world by coming here to help than I can by staying at home! The war between Russia and Ukraine is still going on, and the Ukrainians who are fleeing have no money to buy clothes for their children, so I am happy to help them in this way.”

Tzu Shao Nan Zeng said, “Although I have never experienced trauma like what the Ukrainians are suffering, I can imagine their fear and deprivation. I boxed and packed with the other Tzu Shao. Knowing that the clothes would go to those who needed them most gave me the energy to keep going.”

Tzu Chi and all of its sectors aim to open the door to great love, a connectedness the world needs now more than ever. These opportunities allow people to walk through that door with bravery, perseverance, and selflessness; volunteers have so much love to give, and Tzu Chi’s projects give them a place to send it outward.

No matter what brings people to Tzu Chi, they learn to cherish every part of their lives and find happiness in the simplest of moments. Volunteers realize the meaning of giving when they engage in service; they experience the reciprocity of love that comes with helping a fellow human being. Though the effort may be small to some, a flood of these types of initiatives is what it takes to get the momentum going. 

When we join forces, hand in hand, we have the power to make the world a better place. If we can keep love in the forefront of our minds, and end the suffering of all beings in the center of our hearts, we can inspire people to be a part of the change. We cannot do it alone, but together we are a force to be reckoned with. As writer Lafcadio Hearn said, “All good work is done the way ants do things: Little by little.”

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