Written by Adriana DiBenedetto
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck New York, the shock of its impact brought the state to its knees — and especially New York’s most vulnerable low-income community members. Unable to support their families, many were at a complete loss for how they could possibly move forward.
With challenges like food insecurity on the rise, Tzu Chi volunteers have been sending forth their love and aid through the provision of free groceries. But that’s not all; our volunteers have been delivering their support all across the nation, from hospitals, to clinics, to nursing homes, to brave firefighters, and more of our neighbors who are most in need. As of October 1st, 2020, we’ve donated 2,180,376 surgical masks, 195,666 N95 masks, 26,621 handmade cloth masks, 77,120 pairs of gloves, 42,563 protective goggles, 28,601 Face Shields, 14,989 protective coveralls, 19,660 bags of groceries, and the relief only continues to grow from there.
As the state gradually undergoes the process of reopening, more people are able to make a careful return to normalcy. But many, however, can still use a friendly hand up. And so, volunteers at Tzu Chi’s Media Production Center in Jackson Heights, Queens, joined their loving efforts with the passionate volunteers from Brigada de Esperanza — the Brigade of Hope — alongside Judge Carmen Velásquez for a free food distribution.
Judge Carmen Velásquez is one of the founders of Brigada de Esperanza, who, like Tzu Chi, has been working tirelessly to bring hope to their community.
Carmen Velásquez is the first Ecuadorian-American judge in New York. Back in 2017, we were honored to have been joined by Judge Carmen Velásquez at the premiere for our documentary film, “Ecuador Se Levanta,” in Corona, Queens.
The documentary tracks the course of Tzu Chi’s disaster relief efforts after a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador on April 16, 2016, and reveals how locals banded together to revitalize their home. To this day, Tzu Chi continues to be deeply grateful for the kindness and support shown by Judge Carmen Velásquez and the Ecuadorian community.
In fact, this free grocery distribution event marked the third for Tzu Chi and Brigada de Esperanza at our Media Production Center for low-income individuals affected by the pandemic.
“A lot of their jobs pretty much have stopped since the close down back in March. So they have no source of income,” expressed Nancy Wei, a Tzu Chi volunteer at the distribution. So, with masks in place and adorning their signature Tzu Chi uniforms, volunteers convened outside the red brick building in Flushing with carefully stacked vegetables and fruits, so families can achieve a fresh, nutritious meal amid this tremendously difficult period.
Frustrations have run high during the pandemic, but at the distribution site, the atmosphere remained enthusiastic. Judge Carmen Velásquez’s mere presence offers a sense of stability to those around her, and is full of life. The energy she brought to the event was one that others were glad to bask in — the shouts of “Brigada! Brigada! Brigada!” echoing joyously as the event got underway. Laughter could be heard even with faces covered by the protective masks and other facial coverings to uphold crucial safety guidelines.
At the event, beneficiaries were deeply moved upon discovering that the aid they received had been provided with the help of individual donors — other people who sincerely care about them. Knowing that so many people wished to make a positive difference inspired their hearts, and assured they knew that they’re not alone.
“It’s nice that people are collaborating, because we’re united and we’re all human, and we’re all the same,” said Jocelyn Corona, a young care recipient at the event. Indeed, this message is one that Tzu Chi volunteers uphold with all our hearts, and we’re thankful to be able to work together with other dedicated individuals, like those from the Brigada de Esperanza.
Tzu Chi volunteers will continue to support and empower the communities we serve throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — and you can assist us as we aid struggling families all across the nation. We’re calling for 500k donors to help us raise $5 million in charitable donations for our pandemic relief efforts. Every dollar counts, and in these challenging times, your selfless gift of $10 can help us deliver hope to those who can’t afford to feed their families, or provide essential PPE to individuals on the frontlines. If we can inspire 500,000 people to participate, we can reach $5,000,000 in relief!