Written by Chinfen Hsieh, Leslie Shieh
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
On December 11, 2021, thirty Tzu Chi volunteers from California’s Silicon Valley went to Costaño Elementary School in East Palo Alto for a Christmas gift-giving distribution event that served 50 families.
Delivering Love and Warmth for Christmas
Tzu Chi volunteers have been accompanying local families since the pandemic began in 2020 by providing essential financial or material support. As families felt the impact of the pandemic for the second Christmas in a row, Tzu Chi volunteers reached out to local community members, hoping to bring further warmth and relief.
The volunteers had begun to prepare for the distribution two months prior, mindfully organizing winter clothes for each student, inquiring about each of the children’s clothing sizes to find the most suitable warm coat and cozy socks for all in attendance. At the same time, they also prepared holiday gifts for each family, which included a small kitchen appliance, such as a countertop oven or blender in addition to chocolate, disposable face masks, cloth masks, and a holiday card made by Tzu Chi youth group members with handwritten messages. After all the gifts were ready, they were neatly organized and packaged by 15 volunteers.
Fifteen volunteers diligently sort and pack all kinds of gifts for each family for more than six hours. Photo/Leslie Shieh
Preparing for the Event
One of the most-loved aspects of this year’s winter distribution was the opportunity to take family photos. After multiple evaluations and discussions, the volunteers had designed a process that would allow families to take photos, print them out, and put them in frames within five minutes so that families could take their happy memories home.
Volunteer Baozhu Fang carefully designed the family photo backdrop for over one month, as most of the decorations were handmade. Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, the snowman, and various dazzling gifts created a truly festive atmosphere. In addition, knowing the calming power that Jing Si aphorisms bring, volunteers prepared the thoughtful quotes by Tzu Chi’s founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, in four languages.
Volunteer Baozhu Fang spent more than a month designing the family photo scene, with most of the decorations being handmade. Photo/Binyi Bai
Boosting Joy at the Distribution
Volunteers arrived at the distribution site at 7:30 AM and started setting up without delay. They carefully planned the distribution process at the site. From check-ins, taking family photos, receiving gifts, sharing Jing Si aphorisms, and taking home the bamboo banks, health and safety precautions were mindfully considered for each step.
Volunteers arrive at the distribution site at 7:30 AM to set up. Photo/Binyi Bai
Volunteers decorate the scene with dazzling Christmas ornaments, creating a festive atmosphere. Photo/Binyi Bai
More than 30 Tzu Chi community volunteers spend two months carefully preparing gifts and supplies for distribution. Photo/Leslie Shieh
In addition to gift distributions, another group of volunteers in Costaño Elementary School was engaged in community food distribution activities.
In Costaño Elementary School, another group of volunteers carries out community food distribution activities twice monthly. Photo/Binyi Bai
Volunteers offer pantry staples to community residents twice per month. Photo/Binyi Bai
The distribution started at 9 AM. After families checked in, they proceeded to the family photo area, then moved to the family gift-giving area. When seeing familiar Tzu Chi volunteers, families greeted the volunteers happily and took photos with them.
The next stop was the Jing Si aphorism booth. Volunteers shared Master Cheng Yen’s Jing Si aphorisms with each family, hoping that the positive energy generated by Master Cheng Yen’s caring words can boost one’s spirit.
Volunteers share a Jing Si aphorism by Master Cheng Yen with each family. Photo/Binyi Bai
Extending Timely Help
In May of 2020, the restaurant where Lucy’s husband worked was closed due to a positive COVID-19 infection, and due to the lockdown during the pandemic, the couple lost their jobs. Things became difficult for the family of nine. Tzu Chi’s direct relief funds, children’s clothing, and other supplies, however, helped ease Lucy’s mind and warmed her heart.
“First of all, I’d like to thank Tzu Chi for helping me and my family,” Lucy said. “I have seven children. Over the past year or so, I was in the most difficult time; my husband and I both lost our jobs. When the family was homeless, Tzu Chi provided help in time. Later, my husband and I both got jobs. I am very grateful to Tzu Chi for helping us. My daughter always remembers Tzu Chi’s help.”
Alma is an 11th-grade high school student who volunteers her time and efforts as a Spanish translator at the food bank. In January of 2021, Alma’s father was positive for COVID-19, and he was hospitalized for a month. Although he is no longer hospitalized, the virus affected his lungs, and he had to limit his working hours. Her mother was also hospitalized at the same time due to kidney inflammation, and Tzu Chi had provided support.
Alma often helps Tzu Chi volunteers during distribution events. She hopes to become an architect in the future and build low-cost, quality homes in El Salvador. Tzu Chi volunteers have continuously encouraged her endeavors and sincerely hope for all the best as she takes her next steps.
In December of 2019, Alma helps Tzu Chi volunteers translate at the food bank, showing local community members how to register for Tzu Chi’s free dental clinic. Photo/Leslie Shieh
“My mother has passed away. When she was still alive, Tzu Chi helped us,” said Priscilla. “Every Christmas, volunteers sent gifts. We were all looking forward to that moment. Now, Tzu Chi keeps helping us. We are so grateful.”
After her mother’s passing, Priscilla’s family had created a GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral expenses. As soon as Tzu Chi volunteers saw this news, they contacted the family through the school. Tzu Chi subsidized the funeral cost and short-term living expenses. Priscilla was touched by the immediate help and offered to give back to the community as a Spanish translator, donning Tzu Chi’s signature volunteer vest as she took a photo with her family.
“My daughter was awarded a Tzu Chi scholarship, which made me so grateful to Tzu Chi for all the help,” said Jaliyah’s mom, Nakima. Nakima is a single mother of four. Her husband was killed when she was pregnant with her youngest child, and after seven years, the homicide case is still an open one, and she couldn’t get compensation. Even so, she has chosen forgiveness. Nakima is a strong woman indeed and raises four children by herself. In the autumn of 2021, she received her diploma from community college, and began working to help people experiencing homelessness at the time. Her family’s income became stable. However, at the beginning of 2021, Nakima’s youngest son was confirmed positive for COVID-19 and could not work while the family quarantined. Tzu Chi’s aid helped ease the situation. Her daughter, Jaliyah, is a Tzu Chi scholarship award winner, and she admires Master Cheng Yen’s selfless spirit of helping others. Taking Master Cheng Yen on as the role model, Jaliyah hopes to help others in the future.