Report by Richard Chuang
Written by Pheel Wang
Translated by Julienne Chi
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Tzu Chi’s Long Island Youth Orchestra was formed in 2013 with the idea of uniting music and charity as one at its core. Beginning in 2015, the orchestra joined hands with Ronald McDonald House (RMH) to take part in the “Little Hands Helping Little Hands” program each year, baking cookies and performing music for the residents and their families. Parents of the orchestra members also cook scrumptious, Chinese-style vegetarian dishes for all to enjoy.
In response to the pandemic, the rooms that were normally used by families of RMH residents were allocated for use by the medical professionals of the neighboring children’s hospital. Thus, family members had to take leave while the crisis persists, and complete arrangements to make a return visit. As everyone navigates this unprecedented time together and the myriad changes that have arisen, however, some parents have encountered challenges, as they live out of state or even out of the country, making travel difficult, while visits can only last a short time. Knowing that this may be their only meal for the day, RMH makes sure to prepare care packages for the families while they visit.
On May 12th, 2020, the Orchestra’s Public Relations Officer, Carol Yeh, the Orchestra’s leader, Richard Chuang, the Music Director, Ashely Sung, and the Deputy Director of Administration, Alfred Chen, arrived at RMH with 500 level 1 medical face masks and 60 care packages. The care packages each included a letter from the CEO of Tzu Chi USA, 5 masks, a box of Jing Si crackers, a bowl of vegetarian instant noodles, a pack of hot cocoa, chips, and cookies.
The Manager of RMH in Long Island, Jovann Dixon, came out to greet the volunteers. She was deeply touched, and said that at a time when pressure is as high as manpower is tight and they have to be extra careful with everyone’s safety, she was grateful for the additional supplies. Visiting families can pick up these care packages quickly and spend more time with their children. She sincerely hopes the pandemic passes soon, and that the orchestra’s members and parents can come back to bake cookies, prepare meals, and perform for the residents.
The desire to serve with love did not stop here, however.
Bamboo Banks Fund Hot Meals for Seniors
While communities diligently followed stay-at-home orders to help prevent further spread of COVID-19, Carol Yeh, the head of public relations for the Long Island Youth Orchestra, decided to use the time to inquire about some ways they could contribute to the community. She sent a message to group members regarding a low-income community near the Tzu Chi Great Love Kindergarten in Long Island. Many of the individuals in need within the community are elderly, some living with mental health conditions as well, and could use a helping hand during this extremely difficult time.
These valued elders are cared for by the local Jewish Community Center, which holds regular activities for the elderly and provides free lunch. However, during the pandemic, the elderly members of the community knew their risk of contracting the virus was higher, making shopping for essentials a difficult and sometimes frightening task. They were likewise unable to go to the community center to participate in activities and access these free meals. As the pandemic continued, the Jewish Community Center also experienced a reduction in supplies and manpower. Feeling the pressure rising, the center had hoped more groups could help support them. The staff at the Jewish Community Center were troubled by the fact that they would only be able to provide cold meals for the elderly at home, so when they learned that Tzu Chi volunteers could help prepare free Chinese vegetarian meals for the elderly, they welcomed the assistance with a great sense of relief. Tzu Chi volunteers, too, were more than happy to help our elderly community members.
After assessing the need, the orchestra volunteers vowed to prepare free lunches for the Jewish Community Center at least twice. Volunteers discussed ways to fundraise for the cost of the meals and set a short-term goal to raise enough for 60 meals — approximately $600. The orchestra utilized bamboo banks to encourage everyone to take part in the fundraiser. When the news of the fundraiser was sent to the orchestra’s interactive social platform, members and their parents responded enthusiastically. One after another, they pledged their amounts for the cost of the meals. As the numbers continued to grow, so did the feeling of overwhelming love in the hearts of orchestra members, profoundly touched by the show of true solidarity and the desire to help. Over the years, the orchestra has worked hard to promote Tzu Chi’s spirit of humanitarianism. They were glad to be able to turn everyone’s love into concrete action, and the final meal count reached 205, far exceeding the original goal.
With funds secured, volunteers went to learn about the Golden Temple restaurant with whom they’d be collaborating with for the meal delivery. The three children of the restaurant’s owner, Jackson Chen, are all students at Tzu Chi Academy in Long Island. Mr. Chen and his wife have always been enthusiastic about helping with school activities. When there is a large-scale event, they often donate vegetarian food to fundraise for the event. Every Sunday, Mrs. Coco Tan also serves as a parent volunteer in the school. During the pandemic, the restaurant business has been hit hard, and they can only keep one chef on staff, however. Together, the husband and wife strive to take care of everything as they endure the economic downturn. The volunteers ordering these meals helped bring some income to their business.
The staff of the Jewish Community Center graciously informed volunteers that the meals were to be delivered by the community administrator, David Lessinger, who will place the meals at the doors of every senior’s home.
The first meal delivery occurred on May 15th. After volunteers picked up the lunch boxes from Golden Temple restaurant, they immediately placed the name and apartment number of each recipient on each of them, and delivered the lunch boxes to the gates of the community apartment. The community administrator, David, was moved by the love and care, and accepted the lunchboxes to be delivered to each home. Watching the back of David fade into the distance as he delivered the meals brought forth a sense of excitement within the orchestra volunteers, for they knew the elderly residents would soon be enjoying a hot meal that encompasses the love of many who wanted to help.
The next day, one of the seniors in the community, Margaret, sent a letter of sincere appreciation:
After the delivery, volunteers shared the story behind the meal delivery to the orchestra group. This immediately touched the parents of two current orchestra members, Ann Chu and Melissa Liu, and also Josephine Chuang, whose child just left the orchestra to attend university and joined the Tzu Ching Collegiate Association. They all expressed their hopes to benefit the elderly by joining the next meal delivery.
The delivered meals relieve only one of the many dilemmas that the elderly experience during the pandemic. They could not go out, and yet, there are three meals per day to fulfill. Since they were not able to shop for themselves, volunteers decided to go to them. At a time when many difficulties persist as the pandemic continues, volunteers hope to continue easing the hardships of those most vulnerable.