Written by Munya Chu, Jennifer Chien
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley
From New Year’s Eve to mid-January, California experienced record-breaking rain and snowstorms caused by severe weather events like bomb cyclones and atmospheric rivers. While the severe drought that afflicted Californians in recent years has been relieved, 18 consecutive days of torrential rains have led to rivers overflowing, landslides, flooding, power outages, and water shortages in many neighborhoods. Flooding homes, farmland, and roads have resulted in significant economic losses.
After the rains subsided in mid-January, Ming Jin Hsieh, Executive Director of Tzu Chi Northwest Region, led a team of five volunteers to start an emergency relief project in Felton, Santa Cruz County, California, to care for the severely affected survivors. Care recipient and storm survivor Lorraine Palmer was one of the most special.
Lorraine, Storm Survivor and Care Recipient
Lorraine Palmer is a professional architect. She bought the house she currently lives in when she was in her twenties. In 2008, just as Palmer was two years away from paying her mortgage, she was diagnosed with a rare disease. The treatment exhausted her savings, and eventually, she had to borrow money from friends to pay off the mortgage, thus leaving her with heavy debt. After 15 years of illness, she is still unemployed with no family nearby to care for her. Her siblings live in Texas and have had no contact with Palmer for many years.
On February 2, Tzu Chi volunteers visited Lorraine’s home in Boulder Creek, CA, about an hour from the densely populated San Jose, CA. Boulder Creek is a quiet town surrounded by sequoias. It is a tranquil, peaceful paradise, but the severe flooding in January severely damaged the area, turning the residents’ charming properties into mud puddles.
Lorraine’s home and property were in chaos. The nearly 50 meters walkway from the roadside entrance to her backyard was muddy and lined with debris. Lorraine, who walks with crutches, struggled to greet the volunteers. Seeing what effort she took to walk safely through the mire, the volunteers were all worried for her safety. So, the volunteers distributed her $600 in emergency relief cash cards that day and offered her clean-up relief for her home.
Caring Like a Family
Everyone works together to clean up the debris. Photo/ Munya Chu
After several follow-up visits, Lorraine agreed that the volunteers clean the house on March 26. When the seven volunteers arrived, Lorraine, as a professional architect, took a notebook with a road map and explained to the volunteers how to pile things up, and gave them a detailed list of tasks to complete and how to place the materials she needed to repair the house, and how to pile up the trash.
With Lorraine directing the volunteers, they worked from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Then, finally, the walkway was safe for walking. At noon, when the group gathered for sandwiches, they saw a Ukrainian flag hanging in the courtyard. They learned that Lorraine was of Ukrainian descent. It so happened that one of the volunteers who went to help that day was last-named Lan (Blue). Another volunteer’s last name was Huang (Yellow). Blue and yellow are the colors of the Ukrainian national flag, making a special connection between Lorraine and the volunteers.
Lorainne also shared some of her hardships over lunch. She said, “My family is not very close to each other. They haven’t seen me in 15 years. My mother passed away in Texas on March 24, and I was unable to travel long distances for the funeral because of my health.”
The Tzu Chi volunteers attended to her with kindness and empathy. They were happy to know they could help with not only the cleanup, but with compassionate listening.