Written by Daphne Liu
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Dilber Shatursun
Springtime on Long Island, NY, seldom passes without its annual car parade. But this year’s festivities took on a more honorific tone. On Sunday, April 19, classic cars drove by several hospitals across Long Island to bring cheer to healthcare heroes. At the same time – Tzu Chi Long Island volunteers were out delivering joy in their own way: through the donations of personal protective equipment, or PPE, and food supplies.
A Task Force with a Divine Mission
That day, Tzu Chi volunteers mobilized at the Oyster Bay, Long Island office. With some counting masks, and others, cans of food, volunteer Tony Liu explained they would deliver to four locations, with the furthest destination in Suffolk County. Like Tony, however, many of his fellow volunteers work full-time, now, from home.
The first stop was at St. Ann’s R.C. Church in Brentwood, NY, where Tzu Chi volunteers have had a long-term relationship. Yearly, the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation hosts a medical outreach and hot meals service here. Pastoral Associate Marge Baum welcomed the volunteers from afar, maintaining the protocols of social distancing.
Volunteers unloaded five boxes of supplies including canned food, rice, oranges, and 2,000 surgical masks into the church. Looking at the box of masks, Marge exclaimed, “this is what we need most!” She shared that many families in the area, predominantly Latino, lived in clustered arrangements, with multiple families in a single dwelling – increasing their risk of infection by the coronavirus. “We were all concerned, but now these masks are going to protect them,” Marge said.
Pastor Stan Wadowski of St. Ann’s, too, came over to thank the Tzu Chi volunteers, having just completed the first morning mass. Ever since stay home orders took effect, Pastor Stan began delivering supplies for families in need. But, Tzu Chi volunteer Joe Chang noticed he didn’t have any PPE.
Concerned for his safety while doing such charitable deeds, Joe retrieved a protective coverall and N95 respirator as a gift to Pastor Stan. “We are all here with a mission, but you must take care of your health and safety first!,” Joe told him.
Guarding the Safety of First Responders
Tzu Chi volunteers moved onto their next stop: the Suffolk County Police Department Headquarters in Yaphank, NY. There was no traffic on the way so volunteers arrived early for the delivery. This particular donation came as a request from Suffolk PD staff member and Tzu Chi volunteer Josephine Liao. She realized the volume of masks her colleagues, frontline police officers, needed and reached out to Tzu Chi NY for help.
Fortunately, two days prior, a truckload of 490,000 surgical masks had just arrived. The order was purchased by Tzu Chi Global Headquarters and distributed across Tzu Chi USA offices. Volunteers donated 16,000 surgical masks (level 1) to Suffolk PD- one of the largest police departments in the US.
There are a total of 2,500 police officers and 800 clerical staff who belong to the Suffolk PD. So far, 81 police officers and 9 administrative staff have tested positive for coronavirus, with 43 having recovered and returned to work. Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and her colleagues thanked Tzu Chi for the generous donation.
But, there was more. Dr. Kenneth Liao, Deputy Executive Director of Tzu Chi’s Northeast Region and a Long Island resident, introduced Tzu Chi and its mission and showed the quality of the medical masks to Commissioner Hart. “These level 1 medical masks purchased by Tzu Chi Global Headquarters are of good quality- equivalent to level 2 masks in the States- which will allow your first responders to work with confidence.”
A Lucky Charm for Frontline Heroes
On their way to St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, NY, Tzu Chi volunteers noticed the car parade headed in the same direction. Sheena Chen, a Tzu Chi volunteer who works at the rehab department there, told us of her experience with COVID-19. Exposed to the virus in mid-March at work, Sheena recovered, but knew her colleagues weren’t getting the protection they needed. But, she touched base with her Tzu Chi family to make special arrangements.
To St. Charles Hospital, Tzu Chi provided 4,000 level 1 surgical masks, and the Coalition of Asian-American Independent Practice Association (CAIPA) provided 500 N95 respirators, 100 eye shields and 100 protective coveralls. In addition, 150 protective face shields were donated by the Tzu Chi International Medical Association. Laura Beck, Vice President of Rehabilitation accepted the donated medical supplies on behalf of the hospital. Laura was happy to see Tzu Chi volunteers again and welcomed them with blown kisses and air hugs.
Then, at St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, NY, there was a similar situation. At the beginning of the outbreak, masks, coveralls, and other protective gear were running low.
Having received the donation of 100 N95 respirators, 50 goggles, and 50 protective coveralls donated by CAIPA, Dr. Chen expressed his thanks.
In conversation with Tzu Chi volunteers, the intercom called for an emergency rescue; a patient was in critical condition. Dr. Chen didn’t even have the chance to sign off on the donation as he rushed to the emergency department, saying “I have to go now to save the patient.” Tzu Chi volunteer Joe Chang bowed and patiently waited. Ten minutes later, Dr. Chen arrived, visibly sad. The patient was too late to save; their heart had given out.
In this way, medical workers often bear witness to life’s impermanence. But this may be a heavy burden. Yet, having the peace of mind to rely on personal protective equipment, their daily stress may be reduced.