Snow Couldn’t Hinder the Year’s Final Grocery Distribution at Tzu Chi USA’s Mid-Atlantic Region

Mid-Atlantic  |  January 20, 2021
Tzu Chi volunteers from New Jersey prepare for the final winter food distribution of 2020. Photo/Wankang Wang

Written by Hsinyi Yu
Translated by Diana Chang  
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

As the end of the year approached and the temperature dropped to below freezing, a snowstorm threatened the East Coast. Soon, more than 10 inches of snow had fallen on several areas across New Jersey. The city of Cedar Grove, where Tzu Chi’s Mid-Atlantic Regional branch is located, was blanketed in nearly eight inches of snow right before their final distribution of the winter season. Fortunately, a snow removal company helped clear the snow in the parking lot so community residents could safely drive through to pick up their groceries.

Volunteers suit up and check on one another's PPE. Photo/Wankang Wang
Three hundred twenty-five pre-packed paper bags full of groceries and dry goods are ready to go. Photo/Wankang Wang

The distribution took place on Friday, December 18th, with volunteers taking careful preventive measures during the pandemic to keep themselves warm and healthy. Since Christmas and New Year in 2020 were both also on Fridays, the food pantry would be closed for two weeks. To help ensure local residents would have enough food during this time, volunteers distributed twice as many groceries.

On the day before the snowstorm was predicted to hit New Jersey, volunteers mobilized to begin preparations on December 15th, and pre-packed 325 bags of dry goods. On the morning of December 18th, the food bank delivered 8,334 pounds of fresh food and 2,743 pounds of dry goods. Volunteers thoughtfully arranged the dry goods, vegetables, and fruits to make the distribution process as smooth and efficient as possible. 

Snowplows help clear the area early in the morning. Photo/Wankang Wang
Volunteers prepare groceries outside Jing Si Hall at Tzu Chi's Mid-Atlantic Regional branch for the distribution. Photo/Wankang Wang

Volunteers who are distributing food outdoors wear protective overalls, face masks, face shields, and gloves, plus a hat and instant hot packs in their gloves and shoes. They are all fully protected to serve every vehicle that drives up to pick up food for their family.

Nancy To, Tzu Chi Volunteer

Outdoor heating units helped keep volunteers warm in the chill temperatures, as did care for their community. “Although it is cold, the heat from the unit and the hot packs kept them warm,” explained a Tzu Chi volunteer named Nancy To. “I am grateful to the team for their love and care. In addition to keeping our body warm, we felt the warmth inside too.”

In the parking lot, cars waited patiently in line. Following volunteers’ guidance, cars drove slowly into the distribution area, where volunteers registered their numbers and notified them of the next distribution date. Then, volunteers loaded the bread, dry goods, fruits, and vegetables into their vehicles. This drive-through distribution method was implemented during the pandemic to help uphold the community’s wellness and practice crucial social distancing precautions. While volunteers may have faced some challenges with the increased weight of the foods distributed, they were pleased to see the families go home with a fully loaded car.

Volunteers organize fresh fruits and vegetables. Photo/Wankang Wang
Heating units help keep volunteers warm amid frigid temperatures. Photo/Wankang Wang
Volunteers load fresh fruits, vegetables, and bags of dry goods into vehicles, cheerfully waving their greetings and goodbyes to each. Photo/Wankang Wang

With Tzu Chi volunteers all geared up, it was difficult to tell who was who, but moving moments abound when working together as a team.

A committed person will transform pressure into a mission and thus tap into an inexhaustible well of joy and energy.

Jing Si Aphorism by Dharma Master Cheng Yen

The energy shown by volunteers warmed care recipients as well. Ursina and Bob, a couple who were part of the food pantry program, even delivered a card to the volunteers to wish them a happy holiday. Inside the red envelope was a donation expressing their gratitude for Tzu Chi’s love and hopes of giving back to others. 

A total of 26 volunteers participated in the event. Because of everyone’s love and dedication, 290 households benefited from this distribution.

The drive-through grocery distribution benefits 290 families before the winter holidays. Photo/Wankang Wang
Volunteers are incredibly touched to receive a thoughtful greeting card from Ursina and Bob. Photo/Wankang Wang

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