Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley
With an atmosphere filled with flowers, balloons, and cheerful music, over 100 guests gathered at the San Bernardino City Unified School District office on April 18, 2023, to celebrate the inauguration of the district’s new superintendent, Mauricio Arellano. Following the ceremony, the district’s Board of Education, the newly appointed superintendent, and the school district’s leadership took the stage to present the Community Partner Award to Tzu Chi USA to acknowledge their contributions.
The master of ceremonies highlighted Tzu Chi’s 27 years of service to the local community, giving community leaders a deeper understanding of the organization. The speaker expressed hope that Tzu Chi would continue to support the new leadership of the school district, working hand in hand to care for and uplift low-income families within the community.
San Bernardino County has faced significant challenges over the years. It is ranked as one of the top three “least family-friendly areas” in California. This ranking considers factors such as violent crime, economic status, poverty, air pollution, and urban development.
Since 1996, the Tzu Chi USA Headquarters’ inland region volunteer team has supported under-resourced families in San Bernardino County. By offering philanthropy, medical care, education, and human services, they have assisted farmworkers, new immigrants, and low-income families, positively impacting the more vulnerable areas of the community.
A Brief History of Tzu Chi in the Local Community
In 1996, Tzu Chi became aware of the need for medical care for uninsured farmworkers during a food distribution event at Lucky Farms. With the assistance of community leader Dr. Tom Rivera and Gary Liao, the owner of Lucky Farms, Tzu Chi began offering regular free clinics at the farm and in the parking lot of a local Catholic Church.
In 2006, they expanded their services to include education by launching a character education program at Lytle Creek Elementary School. Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Tzu Chi USA Headquarters, explained how Tzu Chi volunteers gradually became integral to the San Bernardino community.
The Tzu Chi USA Headquarters volunteer team holds free clinic events in San Bernardino County schools. Photo/Henry Nhan
In 2015, during a free clinic hosted by Tzu Chi volunteers at Gomez Elementary School in San Bernardino County, the principal informed them that the school’s cafeteria had been burglarized over the weekend by hungry students seeking food. Shocked and heartbroken, the volunteers decided to find a solution for the children. They met with Dr. Dale Marsden, the San Bernardino City Unified School District superintendent at the time, who explained that 90% of the district’s low-income children would go hungry without the school’s breakfast and lunch programs. In response, Tzu Chi USA Headquarters launched the Mobile Food Pantry program in 2016, holding regular monthly food distributions at schools throughout the county.
Throughout the pandemic, Tzu Chi not only continued to distribute food to families in need through drive-through events but also awarded scholarships to high school graduates attending college. Additionally, they resumed community free clinics as pandemic regulations gradually eased. Moreover they expanded the distribution of secondhand clothing from the Treasure Hut to provide free clothing for residents. Finally, following this year’s winter storm, Tzu Chi volunteers visited the mountainous areas of San Bernardino County on weekends to support older adults and low-income families affected by the disaster, providing eco-blankets and relief funds.
“Although Tzu Chi volunteers may not speak fluent Spanish, we have been quietly serving the community,” said Tzu Chi USA Headquarters CEO Debra Boudreaux. “We are grateful that the school district management team, which also wants to care for the residents, recognizes Tzu Chi and works together with us to help the children and students.”
Shared Vision, Shared Home
Tzu Chi volunteers’ long-term dedication to San Bernardino residents has not gone unnoticed, as their long-time partners have recognized and acknowledged their efforts. With a deep sense of friendship and appreciation, Tzu Chi has earned the trust of the district and the school’s new management team, and is enthusiastic about expanding more programs to benefit the students.
“We are honored to have such an outstanding and compassionate partner as Tzu Chi. We have been working with Tzu Chi for more than a decade, and we are grateful for the countless efforts their volunteers have put into our community, which has changed the lives of many students,” said Linda Bardere, Chief of Communications & Community Engagement for the San Bernardino City Unified School District.
She continued, “Tzu Chi has been providing numerous services in this community, including medical care, food, and costly dental and vision services that our students would not otherwise have access to. We are confident that under the district’s new management team, our close collaboration with Tzu Chi will continue, and we will always welcome Tzu Chi volunteers to come here, to our shared home.”
Norm Nunez, who previously served as the head of Community Outreach for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department before becoming the Community Outreach Manager of the San Bernardino County School District Superintendent’s Office, reminisced about his early experiences with Tzu Chi in the 1990s. “Your volunteers came here to assist with the resettlement of fire survivors, not only providing supplies but also distributing emergency relief funds. Following that, you offered medical care, education, food distribution, and various other services in collaboration with Lucky Farm and Dr. Rivera. You’ve truly made a significant impact on this community,” he said.
Raafi Bell, principal of Hardy Brown College Prep, has been in his position for two years, and highly appreciates Tzu Chi’s efforts for the students. “I know that Tzu Chi is always here, hosting free clinics and food distributions. As a principal, I make sure to inform the entire school as soon as I learn about these events. Most of our students are eligible for free lunch, and many of their families face financial challenges, so Tzu Chi’s services truly help alleviate the financial burden on the students and their families,” he shared.
The Tzu Chi USA Headquarters volunteer team responsible for the San Bernardino County service program was surprised and excited to receive the award. In addition, several long-standing volunteers were present to witness the honor.
Shui He Wu, a volunteer focused on charitable initiatives in San Bernardino County, shared, “We have been organizing free clinics and food distributions for over ten years. Currently, we hold monthly food distributions at two schools, with 50 to 60 volunteers involved each time. The recipient families can reach up to 300 families at one school and more than 100 families at the other. Each quarter, we host a large-scale free clinic that requires nearly 100 volunteers, including medical professionals, to provide blood tests, Western medicine, Chinese medicine, dentistry, ophthalmology, and free medication, benefiting 300 patients at each clinic.”
“It is an honor and a pleasure to be here to receive the award from the San Bernardino City School District,” said Tzu Chi USA Headquarters’ Inland Team Leader, Tzu Shi Chang, “Because we know that families in this community who are in need of help, we select more students from this district for our college scholarships each year. Seventeen of the students this year are from San Bernardino County. In addition, San Bernardino County is also an area where natural disasters such as wildfires occur more often, so volunteers often need to respond quickly to emergency relief work.”
For the past 27 years, Tzu Chi volunteers have dedicated themselves to the communities they serve across the USA. By helping families and individuals in need, they have shared the warmth of human kindness through their genuine and selfless efforts. With the combined strength of everyone involved and the support of even more people, we can accompany more families in the community, alleviating their hardships and fostering hope for a brighter future.