Written by Pen-Chi Liu
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
After Hurricane Laura raged across southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, Tzu Chi volunteers coordinated a large-scale cash card distribution at Deweyville High School to aid the under-served communities of Orange County, Deweyville, and Dequincy. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the event utilized a drive-through method of distribution to limit contact and allow individuals to receive crucial support from the safety of their vehicles.
Just as the sun began its climb over the horizon, seventeen volunteers gathered at Tzu Chi’s southern regional office in Houston for a short briefing on October 3rd, 2020. Then, they climbed into four separate vehicles and began their two-hour journey to Deweyville, TX. About an hour into the trip, however, Scott Dyson and Wesley Wu — who were driving the box truck carrying all of their eco-friendly blankets, Jing Si Instant Rice, and noodles — heard a loud pop. Luckily, they were close to a rest area and quickly pulled into the parking lot. Walking around to the front of the truck, the volunteers confirmed what they’d instantly suspected had occurred. Unfortunately, the front driver’s side tire had blown. Two cars with volunteers behind the truck quickly followed them into the rest area and called AAA to request roadside assistance. Volunteers then began to transfer supplies into the other cars so the distribution could begin with at least some of the relief items for those in need. Fortunately, a tow truck was able to reach the volunteers and tow the box truck to a tire shop nearby. The box truck arrived at the distribution site at approximately 11:30 AM, one hour and a half after the distribution had started.
Angel Chen, a San Gabriel Valley local who has been a vegetarian for 30 years, shared her reasoning for participating in the packaging efforts: “No matter where we are or what our religious beliefs are, when the COVID-19 outbreak occurred, it became important for everyone to work together, and share resources with empathy. As Master Cheng Yen always said, helping others with compassion will bring joy and happiness as you give.”
As volunteers presented the eco-friendly blankets, they also took the opportunity to speak with the recipients, and told them the story of how these special blankets are crafted from discarded polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic water bottles. Volunteers also spoke about the origin of Tzu Chi’s bamboo banks. Upon hearing the powerful history behind the tiny container, many immediately put coins into the bamboo bank in the hopes of helping others. Volunteers were deeply moved to see that they’d filled up two bamboo banks with coins.
When Kadejha West received one of Tzu Chi’s disaster relief cash cards, she couldn’t help but shed tears of joy and gratitude. She’d been to other distributions previously which provided resources like food and clothes, but said that Tzu Chi had been the first to give her financial help. She was deeply moved by the assistance, as she could not work due to the pandemic, and then the storm made matters all the more stressful. By the end of the event, volunteers could see smiles in the eyes of all in attendance, thankful for not only the assistance provided, but the sincere love and care as well.
Several local volunteers from Orange, Deweyville, and Dequincy, joined Tzu Chi volunteers to help clients check-in, and assisted with the distribution. Also on-site to offer their help in managing the long lines were Texas Rangers.
In addition to local volunteers, more volunteers for this distribution included first-time volunteers, June Tran and Vy Nguyen, as well as several Tzu Chi volunteers who are in training. June and Vy were thankful for the opportunity to help others, and even asked to participate in more events in the future. Debra White is a local volunteer in Newton County. She helped Tzu Chi volunteers obtain the name list from the town of Dequincy, LA. She wanted to do whatever she could to ensure those in need got the resources they required to recover. Deweyville Fire Chief Mark McCall expressed that he felt like this day was a truly blessed day. He told volunteers that this community has been through major disasters almost every year since 2016. While many people in the community were reluctant to ask for help, the immense toll of repeated disasters — and now a global pandemic — has delivered an overwhelming blow to their livelihoods. Residents needed the extra boost to get back on their feet again.