Tzu Chi Volunteers Deliver Joy and Peace of Mind in East Palo Alto via a Back-To-School Event

Northwest  |  February 28, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteers in California’s Silicon Valley organize a Back-To-School event for children in East Palo Alto. Photo/Christina Chang

Written by Christina Chang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

Putting on a new pair of bright pink sneakers, a little girl tried a few steps before giving Tzu Chi volunteers a thumbs up. “I really like these,” she said happily, eager to wear the comfortable shoes on the first day back to school. 

Putting on a pair of bright pink sneakers, a little girl happily gives Tzu Chi volunteers a thumbs-up. Photo/Christina Chang

On September 11, 2021, Tzu Chi volunteers in California’s Silicon Valley organized a Back-To-School event for children from the East Palo Alto community. Within the carefully arranged gift bags acquired and organized by community volunteers were new clothes and shoes for students, cloth masks hand-made by Tzu Chi volunteers, medical masks, and cleaning supplies, like disinfectant wipes, tissues, hand soaps, and hand sanitizer. With these supplies, it’s hoped that families in the East Palo Alto School District can more confidently return to school while continuing to uphold their good health.

Tzu Chi volunteers in the Silicon Valley prepare supplies for children in East Palo Alto, hoping to bring students joy and peace of mind for the new school year. Photo/Christina Chang

The students’ families at the distribution on this occasion were invited thanks to a list provided by the school district staff, who have collaborated with Tzu Chi volunteers for many years. Beginning in May of 2020, when the pandemic had escalated in severity, Tzu Chi volunteers mindfully carried out long-term, continuous assistance and family care. Over the past year or so, cash cards and material donations have helped more than 60 families. 

For this activity, Tzu Chi volunteers prepared family care packages for a total of 35 families, benefiting 82 students.

Heartfelt Emotions Abound

The parents of Alma Romero Lope, a junior in high school, came to the United States with their children from Guatemala many years ago, and settled in East Palo Alto. Things were not so easy for the family, but they were still optimistic. During weekends, Alma also worked with Tzu Chi volunteers at the community food bank to help with distributions, and offered her time as a Spanish translator during free clinic activities sponsored by Tzu Chi.

When the pandemic had increased in severity, Alma’s father tested positive for COVID-19, and was unable to work during the treatment and quarantine period — resulting in the loss of their sole source of income. The whole family quarantined together, suddenly feeling shrouded in gloom. Luckily, Alma’s father recovered, but his lungs were affected, and he had to limit his hours for his health. Tzu Chi volunteers provided direct assistance to meet the family’s short-term needs. 

On the day of the Back-To-School activity, Alma’s mother and three children expressed their appreciation for the care. “When our whole family was under house quarantine, [Tzu Chi volunteers] not only provided financial assistance but also called from time to time because they care about our lives,” Alma’s mother said with tears in her eyes. “You communicated with us through the translator and listened patiently to our needs. Thank you very much.”

On the day of the activity, Alma’s family thanks volunteers for their care. Photo/Edward Hwang

Alma, accompanied by her family, had attended the Back-To-School event to collect supplies, and at the same time, generously served her neighbors as a Spanish translator. “We grew up together in the pandemic, and we can also face the challenge of getting through the pandemic together,” she said. 

Tzu Chi volunteers help Alma’s younger brother try on new shoes. Photo/Christina Chang

Inspired to Give Back

Lucinda Madrid was joined by her three daughters at the Back-To-School event, her eldest daughter holding her little sister. Arianna, Lucinda’s five-year-old middle-child, held a Tzu Chi bamboo bank filled with coins in her hand. “This is for charity,” she said with a shy smile, and gave the coins to Tzu Chi volunteers.

Arianna saves coins in her bamboo bank each day until she sees Tzu Chi again, and donates the funds to help others. Photo/Christina Chang.

In May of 2020, Arianna had accepted a bamboo bank when her family received assistance from Tzu Chi. At that time, the little girl’s father couldn’t work as a result of the pandemic, and Tzu Chi provided cash cards to the family, which helped them in the short term. As circumstances had gradually eased, Arianna began to put the household’s small change into the bamboo bank one by one every day, hoping to keep the cycle of love going.   

On the day of the distribution, Arianna donated the coins in her bamboo bank for a second time. When she’d met Tzu Chi volunteers at the end of July, Arianna had already donated her first bamboo bank.

Ariana’s mother, Lucinda, had learned that when their family needed help, it was the love of others around the world — collected in bamboo banks like theirs — that enabled Tzu Chi volunteers to provide their emergency funds. The whole family was deeply touched by the care they felt, and vowed to help other families via their own bamboo bank. “It’s like our whole family is standing with Tzu Chi volunteers to help those who need support,” Lucinda said. “Everyone in our family is grateful for the cash cards given to us by Tzu Chi, which really helped us a lot.”

Lucinda and her family donate their bamboo bank filled with the change they accumulate daily to convey their love. Photo/Christina Chang

Neighbors Help Neighbors

Elizabeth Inoslaoza is a volunteer translator who moved from Chile to live in the Bay Area five years ago. In the beginning, she’d experienced challenges with communication and participated in ESL courses. Afterward, her friends had introduced her to Tzu Chi, and she readily joined the volunteer team. Elizabeth took an active role in the on-site distribution activities during the pandemic and sent text messages in Spanish to aid recipients.

Elizabeth graciously helps translate at Tzu Chi events. Photo/Christina Chang

Elizabeth said that her personal experiences have helped her understand the difficulties of her neighbors, and the inability to ask for help. Therefore, she’s dedicated her time during the pandemic as a volunteer translator, and felt she had achieved great deal. “I feel like the voice of the Spanish-speaking care recipient families, so that when they need help, they can express their needs. I can help the care recipient families break through the language barrier and connect them with Tzu Chi,” Elizabeth explained.

Elizabeth joins Tzu Chi during the pandemic as a volunteer translator. Photo/Christina Chang

The Long-Time Care of Community Volunteers

Tzu Chi’s Back-To-School distribution site was located in Costaño Elementary School, which is also the distribution site of the community food bank services in East Palo Alto. Tzu Chi’s Sunnyvale community volunteers provided support every week to assist in the distributions. This time, care recipient families could receive Tzu Chi’s Back-To-School distribution materials while also acquiring pantry essentials.  

A total of 90 Tzu Chi volunteers mobilize for the distribution activities in East Palo Alto. Photo/Christina Chang

Tzu Chi volunteers called each family one by one at the beginning of the preparations for the event. In addition to understanding the current situation of the care recipients and inviting them to participate in distribution activities, the volunteers also inquired about each child’s clothing and shoe size, and their favorite colors.  

In order to ensure that every child could receive a pair of new shoes that are comfortable to wear while also meeting their personal preference, Tzu Chi volunteers invited the children to try the items on the day of distribution. If the shoes were found to be the wrong size, the Tzu Chi volunteers went to the store and exchanged them for the correct size to be sent to the children.

Tzu Chi volunteer Hsiu Ju Hsieh invites Christopher, a senior high school student, to apply for a Tzu Chi grant, and explains that Tzu Chi volunteers can also provide counseling and assistance when applying for a college. Photo/Edward Hwang

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