Tzu Chi holds a cash card distribution at the Boys & Girls Club of Lee County on the afternoon of October 15, 2022. Photo/Qihua Luo
Written by: Qihua Luo
Translated by: H.B. Qin
Edited by: Adriana DiBenedetto
Tzu Chi’s first Hurricane Ian relief distribution in Florida was held on the morning of October 15, 2022, at the Arcadia RCMA Child Development Center. In the afternoon on the very same day, a second relief distribution took place at the Boys & Girls Club of Lee County, located ten minutes away from the Lee County Disaster Recovery Center (DRC). A total of 235 families received cash cards valued at $800–$1,200 depending on household size, as well as 235 DA.AI Technology eco-friendly blankets, benefiting 806 hurricane survivors.
On the fourth day after Hurricane Ian crashed ashore and caused heartbreaking destruction, Tzu Chi volunteers went to the hardest hit areas to begin disaster assessment. After several assessments, and collaborative efforts alongside the American Red Cross (ARC) and government agencies like FEMA, Tzu Chi began its next phase of relief.
Joining Hands With RCMA Families
Before 9 AM, the front of the RCMA Arcadia Child Development Center was buzzing with activity as relief recipient households came early and greeted one another. As volunteers who had driven hours from Miami and Orlando began to prepare supplies and set up the venue, they were touched when some local residents offered to help.
At 10 AM, the distribution ceremony officially got underway with the performance of a sign language piece to gather positive energy. The volunteers also introduced the spirit of the Tzu Chi bamboo bank. After the welcoming ceremony, volunteers began providing disaster relief cash cards to survivors, with many of the recipients bowing to express their sincere gratitude. Tzu Chi’s disaster relief care packages included not only cash cards, but bamboo banks, a Tzu Chi USA journal, a letter from Master Cheng Yen, and an eco-friendly blanket.
Love and Support for Lee County Survivors
Many feared news of the event was too good to be true — until October 13, when survivors began receiving notices to collect their disaster relief cash cards loaded with funds from caring people all across the globe.
When the Tzu Chi volunteers arrived at the Boys & Girls Club, a queue had already formed at the entrance despite the scorching midday sun, and volunteers who’d been stationed at the DRC greeted familiar faces.
“At first, when many survivors asked us when and where they could get their cash cards, I was uncertain, because the information was still unknown. All I could tell them is, ‘please trust us,’” said Weiguang Zhang, a prior Deputy Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, and Tzu Chi Academy principal. “With such a promise, the volunteers immediately took action and started to look for a suitable venue for distribution on the 12th. The venue was confirmed on the 13th, and the notice of information registration was sent out to the survivors.”
With guidance from community leader Angelica Ramon, Tzu Chi volunteers learned that many school-age children from Caloosa Mobile Home Community lost their school supplies to the disaster. Upon receiving this information from Tzu Chi volunteers, the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce of Tampa Bay, Florida, and the Taiwanese Association of Tampa Bay brought 130 new school backpacks brimming with stationery supplies. Angelica attended the relief event and picked up 30 of these care packages to be given to the children.
For Tzu Chi, this is just the start. When Hurricane Ian survivors arrived at Tzu Chi’s cash card distribution on October 15, they didn’t quite know what to expect, or the depth of the care they would feel. Both communities were hit hard by this calamity — and families are still recovering in many ways from the experience beyond the tangible. But by the time the event had ended, people felt better despite their trying situation. Volunteers plan to continue holding relief events every subsequent weekend through November in Fort Myers, FL.