After the Northern California disaster relief mission was finished for the day, I boarded the bus to head home. It took about five hours. It was cold and foggy, and as we passed many stations, I felt lost.
For these past four weeks, my normal routine was disturbed. Every Friday and weekend, all I could think to do was to go to the Disaster Relief Center. Even though it was the Christmas holiday, I didn’t have time to relax. We were so short of hands that I took working days off. All of my paid days off were used up, so I started to use next year’s.
The Christmas bells were ringing, but I felt very sad.
What are all of the Camp Fire survivors doing at this moment? Are they sleeping in their friend’s backyard, or the trailer they kept from the fire, or in their car parked in the street? Is a large family of six forced to stay in a friend’s tiny apartment somewhere, a messy shelter or still in a tent?
These were real situations that happened to over 300 survivors in just the past 11 days.
What worried me the most were the elderly—retired survivors in their 80s and 90s. For many, their life savings were taken in the fire. They lost everything. When it’s time for them to enjoy their retirement, they may face severe financial difficulties.
Today an 80-year-old couple came to us seeking financial support. The wife told us when she went back to their burned down house, everything was gone, even the marbles.
“My wife and I had nothing 54 years ago. We spent our whole life building our retirement home. Now we are back to the original state,” the husband explained.
Despite their struggles, I was surprised by how optimistic the elderly couple were. Yet still, whenever I think about how much pain this loss has caused them, I feel very sad for the couple.
Tomorrow will be the last day for the urgent disaster relief center, but the cash cards will ensure that aid recipients are able to buy the things they need moving forward, especially the elderly. When aid recipients received the cash cards, I saw tears filling up in their eyes. “This is a lot,” one grandma said while she kissed my hands. I’ve been kissed by her three times now.
I’m very grateful for Master Cheng Yen, all of my colleagues and all of the volunteers in the United States for starting the donation campaign for survivors. All we can do is to hand out the cash cards to those who need them the most. We want to let them know that they are not alone on the journey to rebuilding their homes—because they will be accompanied by the strangers who love them.