Winter Distribution in Fresno Delivered Warmth to Local Farmworkers

Northwest  |  December 30, 2023
Tzu Chi Northwest Region’s volunteers in Fresno gather for a winter distribution in Laton, providing families with cold weather supplies and delivering warmth and care. Photo/Effie Zoulerk
Tzu Chi Northwest Region’s volunteers in Fresno gather for a winter distribution in Laton, providing families with cold weather supplies and delivering warmth and care. Photo/Effie Zoulerk

Written by Kelly Liu
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane

On December 10, 2023, Tzu Chi Northwest Region’s volunteers in Fresno, California held a winter distribution in Laton, a town about 29 miles south of Fresno. Laton has a population of nearly 2,000 people, 89% of whom are Hispanic, and most of whom are farmworkers in the Central Valley. They often earn low wages and their income is dependent on the growing seasons of different crops. These low-income farmworker families are in special need of care and assistance during the winter when farm work is scarce.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tzu Chi’s Fresno Mobile Clinic Team reached almost all the remote communities in the Fresno area. They organize vaccination drives in each place they visit. Despite their years of service in the area, this event marked the first time Tzu Chi visited Laton. 

Upon arriving, volunteers got to know Miriam Segura, the head of the Laton School District. When Miriam learned that Tzu Chi provides free eyeglasses to children from low-income families, she took the initiative to contact the Mobile Clinic Team and invited them to come serve disadvantaged students in the school district. 

After speaking with Miriam, Tzu Chi’s Mobile Clinic Team Manager, Volunteer Olivia Chung, found that many students, families, and local farmworkers lack resources and don’t have access to proper medical care. Knowing that there was a great need in the area, she coordinated with volunteers in Fresno and combined forces to organize a winter distribution in the Laton community, to provide cold-weather supplies for those in need.

Volunteers Olivia Chung (left) and Miriam Segura (right) facilitate the winter distribution. Photo/Kelly Liu
Volunteers Olivia Chung (left) and Miriam Segura (right) facilitate the winter distribution. Photo/Kelly Liu

Caring for the Community by Providing Health Checkups

Before the distribution began, Tzu Ching, Tzu Chi’s youth group, member Alvina Voon, and Spanish-speaking volunteer Leslie Nieves welcomed the residents. The two volunteers, speaking in English and Spanish, introduced Tzu Chi’s eight major missions and shared the story of the bamboo bank so community members could learn how Tzu Chi started with just 50 cents, but now has expanded all over the world. They also provided informational materials so that the guests could know more about Tzu Chi, in the hope of inspiring love and kindness in each of the families.

Informational materials are provided on-site so that visitors can know more about Tzu Chi and the warmth of love that comes from all directions. Photo/Kelly Liu

The supplies distributed to the families included rice, pasta, canned corn, Tzu Chi Da.Ai blankets, sleeping bags, backpacks, masks, and other daily necessities. Tzu Chings from California State University, Fresno provided warm socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes, towels, and other toiletries; while volunteer Xiuhua Zhang prepared Christmas gifts for local children at her own expense. During the distribution, the volunteers respectfully handed the supplies to the residents with a bow. Due to the abundance of goods, it was often impossible for residents to carry everything all at once. When volunteers saw this, they immediately stepped forward to help and assist in carrying the supplies to the car.

Miriam, the head of the school district, said, “Many of the farmworkers are not in a good financial situation, it’s often that many families are crammed into one room, or the strongest people are out to make a living in faraway places, leaving only the elderly and children at home. Your supplies are a great help to the local families in their daily lives.”

In the residents’ hands are full of supplies, blankets, and sleeping bags, giving them peace of mind for the coming winter. Photo/ Effie Zoulerk, Kelly Liu

There are many undocumented immigrants in the Laton community. Given their status, many are afraid to apply for state medical care benefits. These low-income farmworker families are already under a lot of financial pressure, and if they get sick, they have no choice but to endure the pain because they don’t have medical insurance, and hence cannot afford the huge medical bills. In the past, volunteer Olivia Chung found that many farmworkers have high blood pressure or high blood sugar, and have never received dental scaling, not to mention other medical examinations and treatments. When discussing how to help those in need with their health issues, Chung said, “Tzu Chi’s Mobile Clinic Team plans to visit the Laton community on February 3, 2024, to do preliminary vision checkup for adults, and then arrange optometry and glasses fitting services on February 16. In the future, we will assess the needs of the local community and decide whether to include dental and Western medicine teams in the service or organize a three-monthly full range routine free clinics.”

Good Deeds Attracted New Volunteers

Many farmworker families are not fluent in English, so Spanish-speaking volunteers play an important role in communication. Leslie Nieves and Ann Gal van Sotelo, who are both students in the Public Health Department at California State University, Fresno, were introduced to Tzu Chi by their college teacher, Clara Escamilla. They all worked together as interpreters at the distributions. Ann, who already earned a medical assistant certificate while in school, has just graduated and would like to continue her studies to become a physician assistant in the future. After learning about Tzu Chi’s longstanding selfless efforts in remote areas to provide free medical care to the disadvantaged, she was deeply touched and volunteered to work weekly at the Tzu Chi Fresno Mobile Medical Team’s office, assisting with administrative errands such as answering the phone and organizing and filing medical records. 

Currently, Ann has to work part-time as an assistant while taking care of her family. But before she goes back to school to further her education, Ann hopes to be able to participate in the Tzu Chi medical team’s activities as much as possible. “Ann has been assisting in the office for quite some time now. She has had workplace experience; she responds to phone calls appropriately and courteously. Although I don’t speak Spanish, I can feel her sincerity and honesty in her friendly voice,” said Olivia Chung, Manager of the Mobile Clinic Team.

Ann Sotelo (second from left in blue) was touched by the kindness of the Tzu Chi volunteers and now joins them to serve in the community. Photo/Kelly Liu

A total of 50 families benefited from the winter distribution. 28 volunteers in Fresno were mobilized for the activity, and many of them took time off from work to participate with their families. Volunteer Xiuhua Zhang has been preparing Christmas gifts for children from low-income families at her own expense every year. This year, her daughter Liann Ishizuka, who lives in Los Angeles and works as a program administrator, came to visit her mother at the same time as the distribution event. She joined her mother in decorating the booth and giving out gifts. In front of the beautifully decorated gift booth, there were always long lines of children waiting to receive gifts with anticipation and joy in their eyes, making the booth a highlight of the distribution.

Volunteer Xiuhua Zhang and her daughter, Liane, join the distribution together and give Christmas gifts to children. Photo/Kelly Liu
The children are thrilled to receive Christmas gifts prepared by volunteer Xiuhua Zhang. Photo/Kelly Liu

Volunteer Allen Chou and his three high school sons participated in the distribution event for the second consecutive year. The three high school students, with their experience and familiarity with the distribution procedure, quickly got involved in the preparation work at the site. With their youthful energy, the three teenagers became the best helpers when carrying heavy objects such as rice was needed. The father, Allen Chou, is a modest man with a smile on his face, he kept thanking Tzu Chi volunteers for organizing the winter distribution, so that his family could have the opportunity to give, and promised to continue to participate next time.

Allen Chou and his three high school sons are volunteering for the second time. Photo/ Kelly Liu

Volunteers in Fresno took the opportunity of the winter distribution to reach out to the disadvantaged farmworker communities, sending care and blessings to each family in the hopes that everyone gets through the winter safely. The warmth of love and goodness the volunteers harnessed warmed the cold day and became a beacon of hope for families in need. 

Volunteers are glad to have the opportunity to serve the community. Photo/ Effie Zoulerk, Kelly Liu

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