Written by Ying Ying Lee
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley
On September 24, 2022, a crisp autumn day, Tzu Chi booth volunteers went to the square in front of Belle Haven Elementary School in East Palo Alto, Northern California. This gathering is the first time after a three-year absence that the East Palo Alto City Council resumed the annual Belle Haven Community Resource Fair.
Charity Organizations Gathered to Help the Community
With the pandemic that lasted for more than two years and the high inflation in recent years, it has been quite difficult for residents in this vulnerable area. The city government invited nonprofit groups in the community to come and set up booths and advocated for residents to come and participate. The goal was to inform residents of resources available in the community and get more help for their basic living.
Natalya Jones, the city council’s contact person for the Community Resource Association, explains the event’s primary purpose. According to her, “There are a lot of people in our community who need help. People need resources, but they don’t know where to find them. So that’s why we planned an event where we invited all the community charity groups and nonprofit organizations to participate so that residents could get all the resources and information they need at once.”
Lively dance music and Mexican native dances together filled the square. The blue sky reflected the brightly colored traditional Mexican costumes and a joyful atmosphere. Tzu Chi volunteers have accompanied many Latino immigrant families for more than ten years to build their homes. They have helped them escape their difficulties while witnessing their optimism and diligence. Some care recipient families have started to give back to the community and donate to help others after their lives have improved. It was especially nice to meet them unexpectedly at the event; they are still as enthusiastic as ever.
Young Students With Perfect Attendance Year After Year
Anyrah lives next to Belle Haven Elementary School and is a freshman in high school. In the morning, she visited the Tzu Chi booth with her grandparents. She immediately pointed at a photo on the poster, saying that it was herself in elementary school! The photo was taken in 2017 when Tzu Chi held a Perfect Attendance Award ceremony at Belle Haven Elementary School. The Foundation invited students and their families who had been in attendance all semester. And Anyrah is one of the awarded students.
Tzu Chi volunteers introduced to the visitors the services Tzu Chi has been providing in East Palo Alto and Belle Haven communities for more than a decade. These services include the weekly Belle Haven Elementary School “Happy Campus” program and the twice-monthly food bank distribution at Costano Elementary School. Most people said they only knew that Tzu Chi had done many large-scale emergency relief work. However, they were surprised that Tzu Chi had done so much charity work in the local community.
Through homemade posters, the volunteers introduced Tzu Chi’s “Happy Campus” activities at Belle Haven Elementary School, encouraging perfect attendance through different incentive activities. These activities helped the school rise from the bottom of the district’s attendance rate to the top after five years of hard work. They helped students improve their academic performance and test scores by not missing classes. These accomplishments, evidenced by data, have become a cycle of goodwill that has helped the school secure more funding for education. The school has improved the quality of teaching. It encourages parents to prioritize their children’s education so that their children are more likely to have a better future for themselves.
Advocating Food Waste Recycling, Tzu Chi Is Welcomed by Children
Tzu Chi volunteers again advocated for the California government’s “Food Waste Recycling Law” in the East Palo Alto community. Tzu Chi designed several displays and presentations, including an environmental recycling game, which was very popular. While most areas in the U.S. do not have a special program for food waste recycling, the state of California has legislated the largest mandatory residential food waste recycling program in the country starting in January 2022. The residents must put their food waste into the green waste container instead of the regular garbage bin. This action prevents food waste from being sent to landfills, producing methane that damages the atmosphere and contributes to the greenhouse effect.
Children and adults enjoyed the fun games with environmental protection and recycling themes. The Tzu Chi High School team came to the site early in the morning to set up the game booth. Students thought up various creative ideas and designed several games with environmental protection as the central theme. They turned recyclable food containers into exciting basketball and bowling games, which even the young children who had just learned to walk had fun playing.
Tzu Chi volunteers explained to parents and children the story of bamboo banks to save a small amount of money for the greater good. Many parents nodded with approval as their children grew excited to put change into these banks. Volunteers immediately encouraged the children to save their change to help needy people.
Charity Organizations Learning From Each Other
In addition to providing residents with information about various resources, the event was also an opportunity for charity organizations in the community to network. Tzu Chi’s partner, Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, also set up a healthy food booth for the public. They encouraged residents to eat more vegetables and have a healthier lifestyle.
The CERT Community emergency response team promoted the preparation of emergency supplies at home. CERT demonstrated how to respond in case of emergencies. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, which advocates for raising public awareness of the mental illness, also attended.
Family Connections Centers, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children and families, had a booth. Claudia, a Family Connections volunteer, came by to learn more about Tzu Chi’s charitable services. She said, “I believe Tzu Chi can help us get more resources to help families in the school district, such as food banks and dental services. Because we are also serving in this community, I think we can work together to provide more services to help this community”.
In the beginning, Tzu Chi volunteers started with the “Happy Campus” program. Now with more than a decade of care and companionship, some families have gradually transformed into compassionate forces and become blessed people who give. Those who do good are happy, and the East Palo Alto Happy Community is getting happier.
Residents dressed in brightly colored traditional Mexican dress performed lively indigenous dances, and a joyful atmosphere spread all around. Photo/Yiwen Qiu