Tzu Chi Volunteers Gather for Tornado Relief in Gaylord, Michigan

Midwest  |  October 6, 2022
Tzu Chi distributes relief supplies, such as cash cards and eco-blankets, to disaster survivors in Gaylord, Michigan. Photo/Yue Ma

Written by Yue Ma
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

When Mary Gaffney, a resident of Gaylord, Michigan, received emergency relief materials from Tzu Chi volunteers, such as cash cards and eco-blankets, she was so moved by the care she felt that she covered her face and shed tears. 

On June 18, volunteers from Tzu Chi Midwest and Tzu Chi’s Detroit Service Center traveled to Michigan, to distribute cash cards and eco-blankets to survivors of a tornado that touched down in May of 2022. Masks, first aid supplies, and Tzu Chi Journals were provided — spreading love and care, and strengthening faith in recovery.

Tornado survivors share their experiences with Tzu Chi volunteers. Photo/Yue Ma
Tornado survivors are moved to tears by Tzu Chi’s help. Photo/Yue Ma

Building Love and Strength

“We are here today, providing cash cards of $1,000 in value, eco-blankets, and love and care to survivors,” said Tzu Chi volunteer Dennis Lee. Volunteers from Tzu Chi Midwest had driven for five hours, and volunteers living in Detroit drove three to four hours to the gymnasium in Gaylord, Michigan, where the distribution was to be held. 

As Tzu Chi volunteers offered the eco-blankets and cash cards reverently in both hands and delivered them to survivors, tornado-affected residents many times responded with a hug to express their gratitude, their emotions too profound for words. “If you have any questions, you can call us,” reminded Tzu Chi volunteer Yahmei Hsieh. In addition to distributing supplies, Tzu Chi volunteers spoke with survivors, comforting them and giving them spiritual strength.

By chatting with [the survivors], we can relieve some of these [post-disaster] fears.

Many survivors did not expect any help when they first arrived at the distribution site. When they received a cash card worth $1,000, they almost couldn’t believe it was real. 

Susan Huffman, a Red Cross volunteer, said, “When the survivors came, they didn’t have any expectations; they didn’t know they would get any help. [It wasn’t until later] that they were pleasantly surprised by the generosity of your organization!”

“I am so grateful! I received a blanket, a mask, and a bamboo bank. I’ll put all my change in the bamboo bank from now on,” said Elaine Labean, a local community resident who received Tzu Chi’s emergency relief.

Tzu Chi volunteers explain Tzu Chi’s philosophy to survivors and offer love and caring support. Photo/Yue Ma
The distribution site is arranged in an orderly manner. Photo/Yue Ma

Emotional Support After a Horrifying Experience

On May 20, 2022, Gaylord, Michigan, had experienced a tornado with wind speeds of 140 mph. Because tornadoes are uncommon in northern Michigan, Gaylord didn’t have a siren system to warn locals of such sudden and dangerous weather events, catching many off guard. The tornado had taken the lives of two people and injured more than 40. When survivors recalled the scene at the time, they still had persisting fears.

This is a horrific encounter that I’ll never want to go through again.

“I saw rubble flying in the air. I turned and asked my son, Bill, ‘What are we going to do? Where are we going?’ He said, ‘Mom! Get down!’” Mary Gaffney recounted emotionally. She said that the tornado had destroyed the entire block, and she remembers seeing people on the ground crying.

“Maybe you’ve seen it on TV, but until you have experienced it, you’d never know it was so shocking,” said Mary Ann, another tornado survivor. Sarah Stutesman, another local resident, said that she became sick after glass fibers scattered in the air, ultimately affecting her lungs.

On-site, survivors are eager to pay their love forward by putting small change and folded dollar bills in bamboo banks, so that they may help someone else. Photo/Yue Ma
After the tornado, Tzu Chi volunteers visit disaster-impacted areas for assessment. Photo/Yue Ma

Within ten days of the tornado, volunteers from Tzu Chi’s Detroit Service Center drove three and a half hours to disaster-impacted areas for assessment. Accompanied by Red Cross volunteers, they trekked through the most severely affected areas in preparation for follow-up relief work.

I’m so grateful you guys can help us this way — truly, truly grateful! This helps me get back on my feet.

The relief distribution on June 18 for tornado survivors not only offered material and monetary assistance, but also helped locals impacted by this disaster regain faith and strength. Together, we can do so much more.

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