Written by: Ping Liao
Translated by: H.B. Qin
Edited by: Patrick McShane
Heavy rain fell on the drought-stricken Bay Area and temperatures dropped significantly, but this bad weather did not stop local Tzu Chi volunteers. On December 10th, 2022, 30 Tzu Chi volunteers from Silicon Valley in Northern California visited Costano Elementary School in East Palo Alto, a food bank distribution site, and distributed Christmas gifts to 50 families while wishing them a joyful holiday season.
Food, supplies, and gifts were handed out to families that Tzu Chi has been assisting for the past two and a half years and families that local schools reported were in need of care and assistance. Most families are enduring difficulties due to the lingering impacts of the pandemic and the price increases caused by inflation.
Spreading Love and Goodwill During the Holiday Season
Before 8:00 a.m., volunteers were busy packing gifts and food while setting up the distribution site. 17 Tzu Chi volunteers started purchasing supplies a month and a half ago to prepare for this event. They carefully prepared winter clothes according to the size of each child, and filled gift bags with chocolates and warm blankets, hoping to bring warmth and joy to these families during this cold and wet winter.
There is a particularly warm corner in the distribution site where Tzu Chi volunteers set up a special photo booth for the families. Baozhu Fang, a Tzu Chi volunteer, spent nearly a month making the Christmas-themed backgrounds and delicate photo frames. The photos were printed and framed instantly, allowing families to take home a sweet memento of the event. The site was filled with holiday cheer and love.
Daya, Catherine, and Monica were raised by their elderly grandparents. They started participating in the Tzu Chi Happy Campus Project in 2020 after being referred by their school. They learned about the Bamboo Bank story during a previous distribution event and started to take action. They brought a second full bamboo bank to Tzu Chi this time, which touched the volunteers in attendance.
A Ukrainian Refugee Dressed as Santa and Helped Tzu Chi at the Event
At the event, Santa Claus was busy taking pictures with families. In this case, Santa was really Slava, a Ukrainian refugee. He previously got to know Tzu Chi when his family came to Tzu Chi for help with a dental emergency. Tzu Chi immediately provided free medical assistance, accompanied the family to the clinic, and did their best to help them settle in a foreign country by providing them with money and supplies. When the volunteers invited him to participate in the event, Slava immediately agreed to join the effort and happily dressed up as Santa Claus.
Care-Recipient Families Volunteered to Donate to the Bambook Bank Appeal
As the volunteers were exchanging greetings with people, a mother approached the booth. It was Gloria, a mother whose family receives assistance through the Happy Campus Project at Belle Haven School. Gloria has come to know Tzu Chi through our care and assistance over the past seven years and has been inspired to help others. She brought with her a bamboo bank full of the donations that she saved every day. “My 8-year-old daughter attends Belle Haven Elementary School in East Palo Alto, and we met Tzu Chi in 2015,” she said, “Tzu Chi has always helped by providing us food on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, giving us a helping hand in times of need, and for that, I am very grateful for Tzu Chi’s timely help, which has made the community a better place. Also, I would like to say that, if we give little by little, no matter how much, and do it consistently, we can help a lot of people.”
Continuous Care Broadens the Benefits to All
Blanca is a single mother of five children, three of whom have special needs: – her 5-year-old son has autism, her 14-year-old son has ADHD, her 20-year-old son has an 80% vision loss in one eye, and all of her family members are undocumented immigrants except for her youngest son. She is having an exceptionally hard time supporting her family on her meager income as a domestic cleaner. In January 2021, Blanca and her oldest child contracted COVID and the school district approached Tzu Chi for help on their behalf. Tzu Chi volunteers immediately came to their aid, providing grants and supplies during the pandemic.
Helping Young People to Bring Hope to Disadvantaged Groups
At the same time, at the site of a regular bi-weekly food distribution, several dedicated young people were busy moving supplies between the truck and the classroom corridor. They rolled up their sleeves to help carry the goods that arrived at the food bank and helped distribute food to the people who came to pick it up.
Since the end of August, Tzu Chi Silicon Valley has welcomed several young workers who are regular volunteers at the food bank. Kai is a doctoral student in electrical engineering at Stanford University originally from Philadelphia. He has a long history of involvement in Tzu Chi’s activities alongside his family. After coming to California to further his studies, he not only continued his involvement in charity work but also invited his classmate, Praful, to join him. Praful said, “After becoming a volunteer at the food bank, it was natural for me to want to be involved in the community and hope that more people would come together to do good.”
Praful also invited Nicolas, a college friend from the California Institute of Technology who is now a hardware engineer, to join the event. By volunteering at the food bank, Nicolas said he gained a way to reach out to the community, even if indirectly, which is very rewarding.
“I really enjoy volunteering and I think it’s fun to help people,” said Noah, a fourth-year doctoral student in the physics department at Stanford University, “Every week or every two weeks, doing something that makes me feel worthwhile and productive gives me a sense of purpose, and it’s a great way to spend the weekend.”
It really doesn’t matter if you are a young person or at an older stage of life, and it doesn’t matter how powerful you are. As long as everyone gives a little and works to benefit people, families who are temporarily in need can receive warmth and care.