Tzu Chi Volunteers Assist Displaced People After Winter Storm Slams Northern California

Northwest  |  March 6, 2023
Tzu Chi volunteer giving warm eco blanket to the unhoused people
Tzu Chi volunteers give warm blankets to unhoused people affected by the storm. Photo/Courtesy of Oakland Service Center

Written by Nancy Ku
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane

On New Year’s Eve 2022, Northern California was hit by a powerful storm known as a “Bomb Cyclone.” This storm brought strong winds and heavy rain. The rain lasted for a week and caused severe flooding in several parts of the state. Many residents were evacuated from their homes, fleeing rising flood waters. The unhoused were some of the hardest-hit residents. These vulnerable members of society lived in tents along riverbanks or lived in cars or temporary shelters in areas prone to flooding. The torrential rains and rising water forced them from these areas and destroyed their belongings.

The Tzu Chi Oakland Service Center, located in the Bay Area, in Northern California received word from the Red Cross that a group of unhoused residents in the small town of Lodi, 75 miles east of Oakland, were in desperate need of help and requested Tzu Chi’s assistance.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, January 21st, 2023 the Tzu Chi Oakland Service Center and Tzu Chi Northwest Region Office held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation and understand ways they could be of assistance. Tzu Chi Oakland called upon Tzu Chi volunteers from neighboring Stockton and Sacramento to assist in preparations. Together they gathered supplies within just 24 hours. Through their hard work and rapid response, 11 care recipients received cold-weather supplies including blankets, sleeping bags, and large backpacks, as well as foodstuffs including instant rice and noodles.

Tzu Chi Oakland volunteers group photo
On the morning of the Chinese New Year's Eve, the Tzu Chi Oakland volunteers receive word that those affected by the local winter storm need immediate assistance. Despite potentially missing the celebrations, they answer the call to help. Photo/ Robert Ku
A care recipient receiving supplies from Tzu Chi youth volunteer
A care recipient receives supplies from Tzu Chi youth volunteers. Photo/Chia Hsia Phoong

Helping Those in Need With a Loving Heart

The volunteers met with Desiree Stafford, a care recipient, in a highway rest area near the intersection of Highway 99 and Highway 12 in Lodi Township. The rest area serves as home for some of the unhoused people who were displaced by the storm. Both highways are busy roads, and the intersection sees lots of truck traffic. The area is a difficult place for anyone to live, and the tenacity the care recipients showed in overcoming adversity and hardship inspired the volunteers. Tzu Chi brought cheer and camaraderie to help ease the burden of the care recipients. 

Tzu Chi youth volunteer Ashley Wong, who was originally a little uneasy about volunteering on a holiday, felt happy after helping those in need. Chinese New Year’s Eve is a time when families are traditionally reunited, so she felt sad to be away from her loved ones. However, she was happy to help those who lost their homes due to the storm on this special day. One care recipient gave her a balloon in thanks for her assistance. Qiao Xin said, “The care recipients are very polite and thoughtful.”

Gratitude Makes the World a Better Place

One of the leaders of the small community, Desiree, is always eager to help people in her same situation. She has a small kitchen in her vehicle, and she cooks for other unhoused people in the neighborhood when she can. After the storm, she saw the hardships those in her community endured and contacted the Red Cross for help. She said, “Thank you for coming out to help. I contacted a lot of places, but there was no response. Your presence here means the world to me and helps everyone a lot, thank you!”

Michael Selinas lives out of his vehicle and works a retail job on weekends at the local farmer’s market to make ends meet. He got out of his vehicle twice to thank the volunteers as they distributed the supplies. He said, “I’m happy to see people coming out to help people in need. I see a lot of people like that at the farmers’ market, and I blow up balloons and give them to them. Today I saw young people in your group who came to help, and I blew balloons for you, too, as a thank-you for everything you did, which was extremely kind.”

Thank you very much, not only from me, but also from them (the other care recipients). I hope your good deeds will encourage more people to come and do something to help people, what you did today can be simply described as superb!

When people in need are hurt or displaced by natural disasters, Tzu Chi volunteers step up and offer help. On the special day of Chinese New Year’s Eve, the volunteers celebrated the holiday by spreading love and giving to those in need.

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