Written by Michelle Cheng and Vivian Chang
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, ways of offering community service have changed. Tzu Chi Youth Group volunteers, currently students from Tzu Chi USA Northwest Region’s Silicon Valley High School Group, made cloth masks, hairbands, and surgical caps for distribution to those in need. The personal protection equipment (PPE) items they produced were donated to medical facilities and underserved households.
Vivian Chang, a Tzu Chi volunteer and the parent of a student from the Silicon Valley High School Group, explained that the reason behind starting the production of cloth masks and surgical caps originated from another parent who works in a lab. She was disturbed by seeing the team of biotech workers disposing of single-use PPE at the lab every day, which isn’t environmentally-friendly. So, she asked Tzu Chi if they could provide cloth masks for them to disinfect and reuse every day instead of relying on single-use ones.
Additionally, another parent from the group, who works at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center, expressed the hospital’s need for PPE on behalf of the medical staff. After further discussion, everyone decided to launch the production of surgical caps and cloth masks and donate them to frontline healthcare workers to express their gratitude.
Starting at the beginning of June, the 33 high school students who are members of the Tzu Chi Youth Group began to carry out their assigned tasks as part of several different teams. Their relay production process included purchasing cloth, laundering the material, cutting, sewing, threading, etc.
Some teams received photos as instructions on how to execute the various sewing tasks. After one group completed their assigned work, it would hand over the PPE-in-the-making to the next group.
Not every child in each group knew how to sew or use a needle. In sharing personal experiences from home, one parent described how her son, who had just started to sew the first stitch, scared her with a scream because the needle got stuck in his finger. Other parents relayed similar occurrences. However, the good news is that even if their child got hurt by the needle several times, everyone still completed their tasks responsibly.
In the end, the students completed a total of 126 surgical caps. They donated the first batch of 50 caps to Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center. The hospital staff gave them feedback expressing great appreciation and asking if they can receive additional caps for more staff members. As a result, 100 surgical caps went to Santa Clara Medical Center, and another medical facility received the remaining 26.
The 173 hairbands the students made were also donated to Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center. And, all 178 cloth masks produced by the group were given out in Sunnyvale, a city located in Santa Clara County, in California’s Silicon Valley, as part of the items distributed for Tzu Chi USA’s East Palo Alto individual charity cases.
Lessons Learned and Cherished
The students were able to help their community during the COVID-19 pandemic while learning valuable life lessons at the same time. Alyssa Yao, who’s about to become a Junior in high school, had realized that through contributing some time and effort, anyone could help support the health and safety of others, something well worth doing, and she was happy to be part of it.
Isabel Chen, who was in charge of sewing, refused her mother’s help. Hua Zhong, Isabel’s mother, smiled and said, “Originally, I wanted to help with some difficult steps in sewing it for her, so I asked her if she needed help with the more complicated parts. Unexpectedly, she said, ‘This is my responsibility, I want to do it myself.’ and refused my offer.”
Ivilyn Tan had never used a sewing machine before, but since there was a brand-new one at home, she bravely took on the responsibility for the sewing part of the job. It was finally time to put the sewing machine, which had been sitting in storage for three years, to work.
Ivilyn learned the basics of sewing from the web and slowly gained skill. The finished product came out great, and many people couldn’t believe this was her first time sewing.
Ian Shih was in charge of tailoring the cloth and learned about the use of patterns in the process.
As Ian took on the task of transferring the headbands pattern onto the roll of fabric, his seventh-grade brother joined the production line, and the siblings enjoyed their time together when completing the task. Their father, Jimmy Shih, said “It’s really fun to watch my children doing good deeds to help people while at the same time enjoying family time.”
Serving Their Community in Other Ways Too
Concurrently, the Tzu Chi Youth Group Silicon Valley High School Group also initiated other ways of showing its community spirit and care. To start, the students wrote and sent thank you cards to frontline healthcare workers as a way of expressing their appreciation.
The group also undertook to collect children’s clothing for donation to Tzu Chi USA’s East Palo Alto individual charity cases. The students collected, carefully packed, and then donated a total of more than 20 bags of fairly-new or brand-new clothes, hoping that the struggling families will feel their love and care.
No one knows how long this pandemic will last, and to get through it, we need mutual support. These high school students found a way to show their community spirit and gained insights and skills in return.
We can all play a part. Please support our Together While Apart campaign, and add your love to Tzu Chi’s efforts to assist all in need during this challenging time.