Tzu Chi Volunteers Accompany Hurricane Ian Survivors on the Road Ahead

Southern  |  December 6, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteer and Hurricane Ian Survivors embracing each other
Tzu Chi volunteers and survivors share an emotional moment at Tzu Chi’s Hurricane Ian relief distribution for Fort Myers community members. Photo/Jason Chen

Written by Xiuling Zhang, Fangwen Huang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

Upon witnessing the effects of Hurricane Ian in Florida, Tzu Chi volunteers from the Southern Regional office and additional United States regional offices swiftly gathered in Florida to provide their love and relief. Together, they assessed the situation on site and began a six-day, seven-session distribution effort as of October 15, 2022. The latest and largest event was held on November 5 in Lee County’s Fort Myers community. With both hands outstretched and heads bowed in reverence, Tzu Chi volunteers delivered cash cards, eco-blankets, and essential supplies to survivors. 

A total of 24 volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s Headquarters, Northeast Region, Greater Washington DC Region, Northwest Region, Southern Region, and 80 local volunteers, worked together to ensure a smooth event process. A total of 820 households were assisted on that day, benefiting 2,740 Hurricane Ian survivors. 

Since the disaster struck, Tzu Chi has launched seven disaster relief distributions, mobilized 400 volunteers across the United States, and provided $2,227,400 in cash card relief to 8,235 survivors.

Love the Earth, Cultivate Blessings

Southern Region Executive Director Sean Luo speaks about the origin and spirit of Tzu Chi’s bamboo bank
Southern Region Executive Director Sean Luo speaks about the origin and spirit of Tzu Chi’s bamboo bank. Photo/Jason Chen

During the relief event, Southern Region Executive Director Sean Luo introduced the origin and spirit of Tzu Chi’s bamboo bank and the foundation’s environmental mission. Mr. Luo also demonstrated that Tzu Chi provides relief without asking for anything in return, only hoping to continue to boost great love around the world. In fact, the cash cards Tzu Chi provides are made possible through the selfless love of people who wish to help others globally.

A Road Made Easier With Someone Who Cares at Your Side

Hurricane Ian recipient Lindsay sharing her experiences with volunteers
Lindsay feels as if a weight has been lifted from her shoulders after sharing her experiences with volunteers. Photo/Jason Chen

Lindsay Hunt’s house was completely devastated by the hurricane. The home was declared unsuitable for living and would need to be demolished, she explained, but the insurance company couldn’t cover the damage. Lindsay retired one year prior to the disaster due to health concerns. She’d had operations on her heart and stomach, and a spinal condition prevented her from standing and sitting for extended periods. She also lost a great deal of weight during this time, and the added stress of rebuilding her home from scratch had taken a hefty toll on her emotional well-being. 

Lindsay’s husband is also currently unemployed, and the eldest of her three children is only eight years old. However, with the winter holidays approaching, Lindsay could only try to stay strong for her family.

Volunteers inquire about Hurricane Ian recipient Holly’s health
Volunteers inquire about Holly’s health. Photo/Jason Chen

Holly Seckinger lives with her fiancé. Due to the storm’s impact in their community, mold has grown throughout their home, and her car flooded. What’s more, she was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer a week ago, and awaits varied tests and treatments.

Holly is a high school special education teacher who only moved to Florida seven months ago. When volunteers spoke with her, she explained that she’d been suspended from her job without pay, and had been sleeping in her vehicle. 

Deeply affected by the experiences of survivors, volunteers vowed to learn more, providing spiritual comfort and companionship so that they may persevere with courage. 

Tzu Chi Volunteers Are Like Family

Tommy shares a big hug with volunteers
Tommy shares a big hug with volunteers and thanks them for their relief. Photo/Jason Chen

Seventy-year-old Tommy Berryhill lives by himself. When the disaster struck, the water flooded the second floor of his house, and he had nowhere to go, so he kept his legs submerged in the water. In the first two days after the disaster, Tommy did not receive any assistance.

Tommy has been through four hurricanes, with Hurricane Ian being the worst. Within three hours, the water flooded to a height of 15 feet, and he thought that he would not be able to escape the disaster. And so, Tommy was deeply relieved when he heard the news of Tzu Chi’s disaster relief event. 

Tzu Chi volunteers learnikng about Yaineris and Yunior’s situation.
With the support of volunteer translators, Tzu Chi volunteers learn about Yaineris and Yunior’s situation. Photo/Jason Chen

Yaineris Valle and Yunior Llanes have three children. The roof of their house was damaged, and for three weeks after the disaster, they had no water, electricity, or gas in their home. 

Yunior expressed that Tzu Chi’s material relief and spiritual comfort warmed his heart, and he felt they were truly treated like family. After hearing the story of the bamboo bank and its significance, he couldn’t wait to tell his children about it, saying they hoped to participate in Tzu Chi activities in the future.

You Are a Survivor

Volunteer Jiaying Zhao comforting John
Volunteer Jiaying Zhao comforts John with warm words of encouragement for the future. Photo/Jason Chen
Volunteer Xiuling Zhang listens to John’s experiences
Volunteer Xiuling Zhang listens to John’s experiences. Photo/Fangwen Huang

John Olund, an eighty-five-year-old Vietnam veteran, showed the scars on his face to the Tzu Chi volunteers. He just recovered from skin cancer surgery. But, his heart was still heavy. His wife had passed away in January and he still grieves for her. With the destruction of his house and car in the hurricane, he is concerned about the road ahead, aware that it could be a long way to rebuild after the disaster. Occasionally, neighbors helped and encouraged him, however. His neighbor, Linda, saw how melancholy he’d been, and invited him to church with her. It was as if a light switched on in his life, and the pastor’s words made a person who had not been to church in 70 years look forward to joining the congregation at church every week. It felt good to have faith as something to motivate him, he said.  

“You are a survivor, not a victim. Live well,” Volunteer Jiaying Zhao reassured John. These words, too, woke his spirit and allowed him to view the situation from a different perspective. He told the volunteers that if people he didn’t know could come from all over the United States to care for and help them, he must stay strong.

John shared with the volunteers that he had been making donations to the Disabled Veterans Association, and felt that what you give comes back to you. Still, receiving help from Tzu Chi volunteers he’d never met was incredible. 

As long as I have the capacity, I will definitely help those who need it more.

There’s Always Someone Who Cares

Sarah, a single mother and hurricane survivor and Tzu Chi volunteer
Sarah, a single mother and hurricane survivor, takes a photo with a Tzu Chi volunteer at the relief distribution. Photo/Jason Chen

Before the storm struck, Sarah Pospy and her three children rushed to take shelter at the prison where she worked. The children did not understand what was happening outside and were upset. The family returned home to find a hole in the roof, and mold growing on the wood panels. 

It was hard to get by for two weeks without water, electricity, or gas. Because of her work, Sarah couldn’t take time off to repair her home. What’s more, she had a six-hour commute due to road closures. She had been suffering physically and emotionally, with only three or four hours of sleep daily.

With bills coming in for home repairs and no insurance coverage, Sarah was at a loss when thinking about the future. The funds from Tzu Chi, however, helped her make a dent in the cost of recovery. 

While the end of this distribution marks the end of the emergency relief phase, it is not the end of Tzu Chi’s disaster relief, as volunteers accompany survivors on the path toward rebuilding.  

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