Edited by Andrea Barkley
In January 2023, as people across the world were ringing in the new year, residents in two Californian communities were facing a dire situation. Heavy rains triggered natural disasters, causing flooding and landslides that destroyed homes in El Dorado County (east of Sacramento) and Amador County (in the Sierra Nevada). As a result, Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers assisted those affected and began distributing aid in early March.
Distribution Plans Made for Affected Families
After receiving emergency applications from 13 families, volunteers from the Tzu Chi Sacramento Service Center went to the homes of the flood survivors in Amador County and El Dorado County to conduct home visits to understand their needs clearly. Then, after some planning, volunteers decided to hold a cash card distribution on March 3, 2023, at the Placerville City Hall, conveniently located between El Dorado County and Amador County.
The winter in California this year was exceptionally long. Although March had arrived and the days were sunny, the temperature sometimes dropped to zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) at night. So volunteers brought warm DA.AI eco-blankets to survivors. In addition, they brought Master Cheng Yen’s blessings, care packages, cash cards, and bamboo banks.
Survivors Are Grateful for Relief
After the disaster, local roadways became a vast ocean covered with earth and rocks. Recipient Linda Poipao, who lives on a 2,000-foot hillside in El Dorado County, was not spared. She never thought that landslides caused by heavy rain would take away her home. She shared through tears, “The landslide took away our home, and we can no longer live in it. Thank you all of you for being kind to us.”
Poipao continued, “This will be a long process, but I’m not alone. Thank you all. It’s hard to say, God forbid, I’m so lucky to be alive today. I have learned from you that, day in and day out, we have a God of miracles who guards our souls and compassion.” Now, Linda Poipao is grateful to have Tzu Chi Northwest by her side, too.
Single mother Samantha Swanson’s apartment is submerged in water. Her furniture and appliances are destroyed. Photo/Tzu Chi Sacramento Service Center
It has been two months since the disaster, and life is still difficult for many residents. Single mother Samantha Swanson lives with cancer and cares for her seventh-grade son. They originally lived in a low-income apartment for people with disabilities in Jackson, Amador County. However, their apartment was submerged in the flood. Too exhausted to clean up the house after the water receded, Swanson now rents a small trailer with her son. Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers sent care packages and cash cards to aid her in this deply difficult time.
Swanson was overcome with emotion and didn’t know where to begin. “Thank you for coming to Amador County to visit and help us. I truly appreciate everything you’ve done for my family and me. The cash cards will help us get back on our feet and possibly buy new furniture and shoes for my son. Since we lost everything in the flood, the cash card will help me more than you can imagine. The blanket and scarf are also incredibly soft; I love them.” With a blessing lotus charm in her hand, Samantha told the volunteers she would hang it on the car window once she returned to her trailer home.
Fred Marks, who had lived comfortably in a single-family house in the countryside of Jackson, experienced a massive disruption to his life because of the flood. But he said, “All I can think of is thank you, this has helped us a lot.” His wife, Susy Marks, lived in Taiwan with her US military father for five years as a child. She was surprised and happy to meet volunteers from Taiwan, expressing, “All the hard work you have done means the whole world to us. We are grateful, very grateful!”
Lynne Huff is also a Jackson resident. After the flood, her kitchen and furniture were moldy, so she had to temporarily move to a nearby hotel. She lamented that the apartment manager could not provide timely help, “The cash card will help me replenish a lot of lost kitchen essentials and help me buy bedroom furniture. I have lost many things.” She is grateful for what Tzu Chi has done, and her fateful encounters with Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers like Nancy Ku. “They were very, very sweet, bringing us love and helping us learn from their solidarity. This event is a big moment in my life.”
Love Illuminates the Way Forward
Mary Hite lived in a cottage in Jackson next to a floodway designed by the California Department of Transportation. Unfortunately, when the flood happened, undrained water flooded into her house and her garage, even soaking the engine of her newly purchased motorcycle. Even so, Mary was quite optimistic when she came to receive the cash card, saying, “I would like to thank these wonderful Tzu Chi volunteers for their help.”
The flooding has caused much damage in the streets, and many people have no intention of returning. However, Mary feels lucky that she still has a liveable room at home. Although the garage was flooded and damaged, with the help of Tzu Chi, she can still prepare a space for her friend, John, who has terminal liver cancer, and live with him when he returns to the area.
To help John get a fresh start, Mary had to face the challenges of preparing the house after the flood. She thanked the Tzu Chi volunteers who came to check on the house’s condition and gave her guidance and help. “If someone comes along and needs help more than me, I will pay it forward and let them know who gave it to me,” she said. “Thank Tzu Chi for everything you have done for us; thank you very much!”