Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Although the Tzu Chi Youth Association (Tzu Shao) suspended many impromptu activities due to the pandemic, its members’ community spirit and love have not been interrupted. In California, the East Los Angeles (ELA) Tzu Shao chapter of the association joined forces with Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters volunteers to initiate an activity that would send love to the children and families staying at the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House.
On December 19, they sent care packages containing donated Christmas decorations and blankets they had collected, hoping the presents would comfort the young patients and their families during the Christmas holiday.
Striving to Improve Childrens’ Health and Wellbeing
In the United States, many parents must leave home for an extended period if their children suffer from severe or rare diseases that require treatment at children’s hospitals in other cities. The living expenses for family members on top of the medical costs for their child often bring tremendous strain to families that may have already been facing financial difficulties.
The Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House is a program of the Southern California chapter of Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC), whose mission is “to create, find, and support programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children and their families.” Many children and their families can temporarily live in the dormitories available at RMHC locations by applying for assistance, the free housing of incredible support at such a stressful time when coping with a child’s illness.
Families living in the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House all came here carrying the weight of pain and bitterness. To keep up with ongoing living expenses and absorb the cost of medical treatment and care for children with long-term illnesses, parents may resort to taking on several jobs, making even the simple pleasures of eating meals together an impossibility.
Living in a Ronald McDonald House can reduce the economic burden on families of children with cancer or other illnesses. Parents who reside there can even reach out and comfort one another, exchanging their life stories and experiences of hospital visits while also partaking in the mundane joys of cooking and dining together. Their children can play with one another too, which can help relieve their physical pain by diverting attention to fun and games.
There are seven Ronald McDonald Houses in Southern California, and Tzu Chi USA volunteers have been caring for the families living in their dormitories for years. Before the pandemic, they would often visit and support these families by providing living essentials, cooking and bringing them hot meals, and holding festive gatherings. By personally offering comfort and care, they hoped that the children and families would feel society’s love and warmth through them, boosting a spirit of persistent hope and courage vital in the fight for life.
Bolstering Hope and a Fighting Spirit
Despite the constraints imposed by the pandemic, the tradition of care for those staying at Ronald McDonald Houses in Southern California had to continue in some way. With this in mind, Tzu Chi volunteer Tina Chou, who directs the ELA Tzu Shao chapter, helped the young members of the group launch the Christmas gift and materials drive for families at the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House. And, she set the plan in motion over a month before the envisioned day of present delivery.
After Tzu Shao members had collected all the donated gifts, Tina asked their parents to help by bringing everything to Tzu Chi USA’s National Headquarters campus. She then invited Tzu Chi volunteers and Tzu Shao members and families to prepare everything for delivery to the Ronald McDonald House. Everyone gathered on December 13 to organize the donated Christmas decorations and wrap the rolled blankets to create heart-warming gifts.
While ELA Tzu Shao got the decorations and gifts ready on the West Coast, Tzu Shao from the New York area on the East Coast also contributed to the project by sending hand-drawn posters. The artwork expressed their blessings and the hope that it would bring joy to the children and ignite their fighting spirit for the future and their lives.
A Family Affair
Ashley de la Cruz, a Tzu Shao member from Glen Wilson High School, joined the Christmas initiative together with her mother, Christine Chin. The high school student had visited Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House before and recounted, “When I came here, I got to know many families of these children.” Ashley truly hoped this initiative would make a difference, bringing some cheer:
Christine, Ashley’s mom, has been involved in Tzu Chi activities since her daughter joined Tzu Shao. Confirming that Tzu Chi is truly a meaningful organization, Christine urged her son, Ethan de la Cruz, to join a few months earlier, in September. The mother has also taken on the task of being a Tzu Shao Parent Coordinator.
Christine was glad that ELA Tzu Shao had organized this Christmas gift drive for hospitalized children, hoping to brighten the holiday season and help curb any sense of loneliness. She was also eager to expand the initiative after learning more about the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House from the staff members who came to pick up the donation:
Giving Is Better Than Receiving
Katlyn Sha, a student at Ayala High School, also joined this donation event in the company of her mother, Chiung-Hui Huang, and was emotional about it:
Her mother, Chiung-Hui, admitted to not knowing anything about Ronald McDonald Houses before this initiative. She was happy to learn that an organization such as this exists and dedicates itself to supporting the housing and other needs of families with gravely sick children. She pointed out that treating and tending to the young patients is only part of the assistance these families require; the caregivers’ accommodations, daily necessities, and emotions can often remain neglected.
In participating in this Christmas gift drive, everyone learned more about Ronald McDonald Homes (RMH), and some got the opportunity to meet staff from the RMH in Los Angeles. In all respects, it was a moving experience that brought joy to the heart, as those involved realized the potential we all have to enhance the wellbeing of others, should we act on our impulses to put compassion in action.
Inspiring Each Other On a Shared Mission of Care
On the day of the donation, Marco, a staff member from the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House, came to pick up the donated gifts. He greeted the volunteers with a bright smile and helped them load the boxes of gifts into his vehicle.
Marco enthusiastically shared information about Ronald McDonald House Charities with the volunteers. They found common ground as Tzu Chi USA’s missions are also rooted in love and care for those experiencing difficulties in life and needing a helping hand.
Marco repeatedly thanked Tzu Chi volunteers for continually visiting the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House over the years, bringing support and cheer to the children and families. He knew how this venture would bring joy to those currently staying at the facility.
Before parting ways, Marco paused to gather his thoughts then exclaimed with sincerity and feeling, “I love this job a lot because this job allows me to meet many kind-hearted people who like to help others, like yourself (Tzu Chi staff and volunteers), and that fills my days with joy.”
Indeed, there was a lot of mutual joy to be shared among everyone on this mission. The pandemic has caused significant challenges along the path of providing continued community care, but with imagination and perseverance, one can work around them, as everyone did in this case.
Let’s bring the light of love and care wherever and whenever there’s a need and brighten the situation where life has cast a shadow by restoring hope.