Written by Lulu Yin
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Since 2004, the City of San Francisco and community organizations have joined together in the week before students return to school after the summer vacation to hold a Back-to-School giveaway, distributing backpacks and school supplies to K-12 students in different areas of San Francisco, CA.
One such area where Tzu Chi volunteers have delivered their love and care throughout the years via a Back-to-School distribution event is the Bayview-Hunters Point community in California. Previously, the annual event had entailed organizing food vendors, music, games, educational booths, and more for a carnival-like welcome back. This year, however, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the event was much smaller, yet the love of all in attendance still abounded.
A Most Popular Event
Tzu Chi’s San Francisco branch began working with the Hunters Point community in 2009. Volunteers found that students were often using the same uniforms every day, wearing the front side on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and the reverse side on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Youngsters grow quite quickly, too, and with the constant use, their uniforms were soon worn out. Many parents in the community, however, face multiple barriers making ends meet, and don’t have the resources to buy multiple sets of uniforms when replacements are needed. As a result, Tzu Chi was invited by the City government to give their care to the K-12 students, and donated books to schools within the district. Then, volunteers began donating uniforms for students at Bret Harte Elementary School.
As time went on, more organizations started participating in the Back-to-School celebrations. For example, in 2019, nearly 100 organizations united for the event, including the Hunters Point Carnival. With food vendors, music, games, and educational booths, nearly 2,000 residents had happily participated. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Back-to-School events in 2020 were a bit different, and even without the carnival-like excitement, the love and care continues, indeed.
Love and Care Continues
The essential precautions in place due to the ongoing pandemic have made it necessary to reduce the number of participating organizations at the event. Therefore, BMAGIC generously distributed backpacks, and Tzu Chi provided cloth masks. Likewise, in order to avoid crowds and maintain social distancing procedures, the organizer had carefully planned the event for several months in advance. Beneficiaries were additionally asked to register online first. The event was held for two days, where the first day was only open to walk-ins to pick up the backpacks and masks. The next day’s distributions were conducted via a drive-through method. The recipients were able to drive in, open their trunks, and the volunteers carefully placed the items inside without contact.
Meeting With a Mentor
On the first day of the distribution, the volunteers met William Ho, a student who was about to enter his senior year of high school. During the events, volunteers provided information about Tzu Chi’s scholarship program in the hopes that students will apply for the program next year. William is a motivated student who has already made plans for his future. He told volunteers that he wants to attend the University of California, and intends to major in computer science. He wants to join a company like Apple Inc., and it just so happened that someone was present who could help him on his way. A young volunteer named Jack Liang had been helping with the distributions that day. He worked at Apple Inc, for six years, and readily shared his experiences with William. The two exchanged information, and William felt bolstered by the guidance and support.
As the pandemic and its many challenges linger on, families with low incomes or with incomes below the poverty line have faced even further difficulties making ends meet. During the two-day Back-to-School giveaway, volunteers issued a total of 2,500 Tzu Chi cloth masks, hoping that even amidst these times the children will be able to continue to study safely.