Written by Jeffrey Lin
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane
A rare winter tornado hit the Houston suburbs of Pasadena and Deer Park, Texas on January 24th, 2023, damaging more than 300 homes, disrupting work at local oil refineries, and injuring one person and two dogs. 8 days later on February 4th, 2023, volunteers from Tzu Chi’s Southern Region distributed emergency relief cash cards and supplies at the Pasadena Campus of the local non-profit organization BakerRipley, which is near the tornado-stricken area. 42 families and 123 people benefited from the distribution with a total of $24,100 and 62 eco-friendly blankets given out at the event.
An Unexpected Tornado
On January 24th, 2023, a rare tornado warning was issued for the Houston area. Over the hours the warning was in effect, the Tzu Chi Southern Region volunteer team became concerned about the potential damage to local communities, businesses, and congregations. As subsequent media reports came in and the extent of the damage became known, the volunteers’ concern for the affected communities only deepened. They decided to go to the affected areas to understand the situation and care for the survivors.
On January 28th and 29th, a team of Southern Region volunteers visited The Joint Disaster Assistance Recovery Center put together by the cities of Pasadena and Deer Park in the southeast region of Greater Houston. The Joint Disaster Assistance Recovery Center registered the survivors and was scheduled to distribute emergency aid on February 4th.
Gratefulness for the Kindest Assistance
Early on the morning of February 4th, despite temperatures of around 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), volunteers gathered at the Southern Region’s clubhouse. They loaded supplies, blankets, and site set-up materials that had been prepared the day before and set off for the distribution center. Regardless of the day’s freezing winter weather, the volunteers wanted to give the warmest welcome to the survivors who came to the event. The volunteers discussed the details in advance in an online meeting, and the team finished the final site set up quickly and efficiently. Every gift for the survivors contained a letter with Master Cheng Yen’s blessings, it was hoped that the affected households would deeply feel the care and affection of Tzu Chi volunteers worldwide.
Before the event even started, there were already many affected families waiting in line at the entrance. Volunteer Julienne Chi shared Tzu Chi’s bamboo banks with the families, telling them that the love and funds used to assist them all originated from the small bamboo banks. 43 bamboo banks were taken home by the survivors and volunteers from other organizations that day.
Master Cheng Yen’s blessing letter let the affected families know that although they were enduring a difficult time, they are not alone, because Tzu Chi had gathered the love and power of people all over the world to help them. The volunteers also motivated the people waiting in line by singing the sign language song “One Family” together, spreading compassion and love to everyone’s hearts. Tzu Chi volunteers worked together like a happy family, becoming a warm sun shining on that cold winter day.
According to Tzu Chi Southern Region Executive Director Sean Lo, “Tzu and Chi means ‘compassion and relief’, Tzu Chi volunteers combine the love of all human beings to help those who are suffering, and lead all the affected families to join us, with their kind thoughts aspired, and sincerely chant and pray, for the purification of people’s hearts, social harmony, and the absence of disasters.”
The World Can Be Enlightened Through the Combined Efforts of Many
Bryan Fought, a survivor of the tornado, learned about the spirit of Tzu Chi at the event. Reflecting on the volunteers’ work and determination he said “I am grateful for the honor of being with the Tzu Chi volunteers, and I am deeply grateful for the assistance they have given. Although it may be a long way towards reconstruction, people can start going to school and work while cleaning and restoring. It must be a huge task and project, but I’m certain that we can resume our normal lives. With the assistance of the government, and organizations like Tzu Chi, as well as the combined efforts of everyone, we will be able to get everyone back on our feet as soon as possible. At the same time, an unexpected disaster like this makes us think about the value of each person and what each person can give to the world and society in the future. Like me, I am also a person who is willing to give and help, to help my neighbors and people around me.”
A survivor named Hernadez thanked Tzu Chi for the assistance given to the people affected by the tornado: “Tzu Chi’s arrangement and support, we are treated like family, so close, thank you for everything that Tzu Chi has done.” She continued to say that she is willing to volunteer in the future to help others affected by natural disasters.
A survivor named Hawkins still had lingering fear when recalling the horror of the tornado that swept through. She was cooking dinner when the violent winds hit her home. Suddenly the lights went out and she realized that it was a severe windstorm. She closed the doors and windows of her home and took her children into a safer room where they could shelter from the storm. When the tornado had passed, she saw that the windows were shattered, household items were broken, and the balcony was a mess. Despite this, she thanked God for watching over her family and making it possible for them to survive the tornado.
After the disaster, the affected families and the volunteers all witnessed how mutual help and community love can gather human, financial, and emotional resources to benefit those in need. It not only helped survivors regain their confidence but also made everyone who walked through the disaster area and who worked at the distribution site feel filled with love and remember that there is love in the world. One survivor named Hawkins said, “I believe that with everything that everyone has given us, we can get through this tornado and get back on our feet very soon.”