Tzu Chi Volunteers Deliver Warmth Before Thanksgiving in East Palo Alto

Northwest  |  December 28, 2021
On the morning of November 20, 2021, during the weekend before Thanksgiving, Tzu Chi volunteers from California’s Silicon Valley distribute Tzu Chi cash cards at the East Palo Alto Food Bank. Photo/Pin I Pai

Written by Christina Chang
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

In California’s Bay Area, the COVID-19 pandemic generated varied supply shortages and inflated prices. Therefore, volunteers hoped to enrich Thanksgiving dinners in the community through food bank services. Tzu Chi volunteers in Northern California additionally distributed cash cards to local families at the East Palo Alto Food Bank on the morning of November 20, 2021.

Tzu Chi volunteers in the Silicon Valley present cash cards to care for families in East Palo Alto, sending warm wishes before Thanksgiving. Photo/Pin I Pai

During the community relief event on Saturday morning, Tzu Chi USA’s Silicon Valley team mobilized a total of 30 volunteers to provide cash cards and food distribution services. The presented Tzu Chi cash cards helped care for and deliver warm wishes to 98 families before Thanksgiving.  

Making Thanksgiving Dinner Preparations During a Pandemic

Laura Haggins, a long-time resident of East Palo Alto, expressed sincere thanks to volunteers who offered supplies at the community food bank. Laura’s current position in the East Palo Alto Food Bank entails the management of volunteer services and food distribution. Laura met Tzu Chi’s Silicon Valley volunteers in recent years through her role in supporting the community food bank. And, two years ago, Laura even joined the Tzu Chi family by becoming the very first local Tzu Chi community volunteer in East Palo Alto. 

Laura also worked with Tzu Chi volunteers in collaboration with local school districts, thus reaching further into the East Palo Alto community to provide essential support for students.

Laura joins the community of Tzu Chi volunteers, becoming the first local Tzu Chi volunteer in East Palo Alto. Photo/Pin I Pai

Although the spread of COVID-19 in the Northern California Bay Area had slowed in 2021, the sequelae of inflation put a heavy strain on many households, and food banks steadily endeavored to expand supplies under budget constraints. As Thanksgiving approached, the need to assist community members and students from the school district in obtaining enough food amid the winter holidays grew more pressing. 

“Prices have risen; gasoline prices have risen, milk prices have risen, the price of eggs has risen, cheese prices have risen, so the cash cards can help these families,” expressed Laura. 

On the day of the distribution, Laura donned her signature Tzu Chi volunteer uniform to aid her neighbors alongside the team of Tzu Chi volunteers. Radiating joy, Laura voiced her heartfelt wishes, saying, “I hope our community’s families can have a perfect Thanksgiving. After receiving the support provided by the food bank and Tzu Chi’s cash cards, they should be able to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner this year.”

Laura joins hands with Tzu Chi volunteers at the food bank to aid her community during the pandemic. Photo/Pin I Pai

Caring for Families and Praying for a Joyful Thanksgiving

Ana Bel Huerta is the parent of a student referred by local school district to Tzu Chi volunteers. In addition to a daughter in elementary school, Ana Bel also has a son in high school. Over the summer, her young son was diagnosed with a brain disease, and has been in serious condition.  

Tzu Chi volunteers in Silicon Valley began providing care for Ana Bel’s family immediately after learning about the situation. In addition to monthly financial assistance, volunteers also purchased nutritious and healthy food twice monthly for her family, hoping to improve her son’s immunity during treatment and help resist infection. On the day before Thanksgiving, the regular visiting volunteers invited Ana Bel to come to the food bank to pick up pantry essentials and a cash card in preparation for the family’s Thanksgiving reunion.

At the invitation of Tzu Chi volunteers, Ana Bel visits the food bank to acquire pantry staples and a cash card. Photo/Pin I Pai

On the day of the relief distribution, Ana Bel happily greeted Tzu Chi volunteers. Upon receiving the cash card, she said, “For Thanksgiving dinner, our family will be reunited. I will use the Tzu Chi cash card to buy food for Thanksgiving dinner and bake Mexican-style pastries to enjoy with my family.”  

Ana Bel happily greets Tzu Chi volunteers and thanks those present for their care and assistance. Photo/Pin I Pai

When Luisa Lopez’s husband experienced a COVID-19 infection in 2020, the whole family was quarantined at home. However, the warmth and care from Tzu Chi volunteers during and after quarantine empowered the family as they faced the many work-related, economic, and emotional hurdles generated by the pandemic.

In early 2021, Louisa was invited by Tzu Chi volunteers to participate in Tzu Chi’s Spanish virtual year-end blessing. She saw how Tzu Chi volunteers provided timely assistance to people across the globe guided by the compassionate teachings of our founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, and was deeply moved. She soon contacted Tzu Chi volunteers in the Silicon Valley. 

“I also want to learn more about the great love of Master Cheng Yen and become a volunteer who is capable of serving others,” she’d said. And Louisa now seizes the opportunity to serve fellow neighbors with her eldest daughter whenever possible.

On the distribution day, Louisa came to pick up food and a Tzu Chi cash card. She also expressed her gratitude and well-wishes to everyone at the scene.

I am really happy and feel very lucky. May God bless everyone, and thank God for helping me by allowing many people to come to help my family and me. After the pandemic, our income has been greatly reduced. So the Tzu Chi cash card really offered huge support to us.

Louisa Lopez, Local Tzu Chi Volunteer
Louisa comes to pick up food and a Tzu Chi cash card. She plans to use the cash card to buy food and prepare Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Photo/Pin I Pai
Louisa comes to pick up food and a Tzu Chi cash card. She plans to use the cash card to buy food and prepare Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Photo/Christina Chang

Encouraging a New Generation of Volunteers

Before Thanksgiving, Tzu Chi volunteers in the Silicon Valley continued their collaboration with local community volunteers, and invited students from Stanford University to join in the volunteer services. 

Roxana Arjo, a senior at Stanford University, has been interested in volunteering since high school. After entering university, she met May Aye, the Tzu Chi Collegiate Association (Tzu Ching) president on campus. They became fast friends, and she was inspired to become a member of the group, soon participating in community service with more like-minded friends

May Aye (left) invites fellow peer Roxana (right) to join Tzu Ching and participate in community service together. Photo/Christina Chang

Roxana was joined by six more Tzu Chi Collegiate Association members for the distribution, where she also graciously offered her time as a Spanish translator. After meeting the families at the event, she reflected upon the experience with volunteers, saying, “It’s good to be here because I can speak Spanish. Being here, I am able to communicate with families. More importantly, they can feel that there are people from outside who are willing to come into the community to provide assistance, empathize with their situation, and make them feel more at ease. These are the goals I have been trying to achieve proactively.”

Roxana offers her time as a Spanish translator during the relief distribution. Photo/Christina Chang

Under the rays of the early winter sun in California’s Silicon Valley, volunteers also sent warm, festive blessings to each other. As they walked out of the community food bank, every family’s car was filled with hope for Thanksgiving day in 2021.

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