Written by Audrey Cheng and Gina Shih
Translated by Yao-yang Tang
Photo by Shuli Lo and Emerald Hsu
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
As a response to the spike in new, confirmed cases of COVID-19 witnessed across the nation as states begin the gradual process of reopening, Tzu Chi Medical Foundation (TCMF) called its supporters and volunteers to action, urging the donation of personal protective equipment, and delivering plant-based meals, sticky rice dumplings, and fruit, to dedicated frontline health workers.
Masks in place, Tzu Chi volunteers all over the U.S. have been carefully providing PPE to health workers since March of 2020, so they can protect themselves and their patients while they’re hard at work. Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, located in Alhambra, California, has regularly donated PPE to medical facilities and others in the community who are most in need of help. In the process of handing PPE over to recipients, Tzu Chi volunteers have taken the opportunity to set in motion their A Better Meal, A Better Earth campaign in support of mindful, vegetarian eating.
With the arrival of additional personal protective equipment (PPE), Tzu Chi Medical Foundation hosted two ceremonies — at Tzu Chi’s South El Monte Health Center and Wilmington Health Center, respectively — to provide the PPE, boost awareness for vegetarian lifestyle choices, and share the ideas behind TCMF’s missions.
Site Visits as a Learning Experience
To follow the protocol set by the California State Government, all invited guests, volunteers, and staff were asked to wear masks and have their temperature taken before they entered the venue. Additionally, in adherence with social distancing measures, guests were divided into small groups led by assigned group leaders for a site visit after the donation ceremony. During the visit, the fundamental philosophy of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s patient-oriented treatment and treating their patients as they would want their own parents to be treated were also introduced.
At Tzu Chi’s South El Monte Health Center, 16 executives from nine hospitals, such as Methodist Hospital, Greater El Monte Community Hospital, and Beverly Hospital received PPE. Two medical students from UC Riverside received the PPE on behalf of Riverside Community Hospital. At Tzu Chi’s Wilmington Health Center, 12 guests from 10 hospitals, such as Norwalk Community Hospital in Cerritos, Bixby Knolls Towers, St. Joseph Hospital, MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, Reliable Hospice, Huntington Valley Healthcare at Orange County, Hope International Hospice, College Medical Center, and Royal Care Skilled Nursing Center in Torrance, received PPE.
A total of four site visit tours were arranged. The first one visiting Tzu Chi South El Monte Health Center was introduced by doctors Chiao-Nien Wang and Yihsien Lai. Physician’s Assistant Ping Tung Cheung and Dr. Yumin Cho were the hosts for the plant-based station, and informed guests regarding the importance of a vegetarian diet in addressing pandemics sparked by a zoonotic source, and answered their questions.
“Lots of literature has pointed out that by eating proper combinations of vegetables, fruit, and nuts, one can still get proteins, vitamins, and minerals,” Dr. Cho explained. PA Cheung also added that “the responsibility of saving the Earth starts from ourselves by having a plant-based diet. It will help reduce the pollution made by human beings.”
Doctors Lawrence Lai, Lina Lin, and Peter Chen, were responsible for talking to the guests about Tzu Chi’s dental, vision, and cancer screening mobile clinics. Dr. Lin revealed that at the Vision Mobile Clinic, patients can get their eyes examined and receive their prescription eyeglasses in the same visit, all for free. Many guests were in awe.
The tour then moved on to the donations of PPE. Hospital representatives followed Tzu Chi volunteers to the storage area where N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, and goggles were neatly stacked, waiting to be given out. Guests were pleasantly surprised to be given baskets of vibrant vegetables and fruits, too.
Similar scenes could be witnessed at the donation ceremony held at the Tzu Chi Wilmington Health Center. The manager of the health center, Huiping Wang, spoke to the guests about how the health center worked, and what services it offered to the community. Volunteers also showed a film depicting the donations made to various hospitals and clinics in the previous three months. The guests were touched, some even with tears in their eyes.
Practicing Vegetarianism for a Brighter Future
A Tzu Chi Medical Foundation employee, Clarence Yau, and a volunteer named Suong Thongkham, emceed the ceremony starting with a video produced by Tzu Chi Youth volunteers to show their respect and love for the frontline healthcare heroes.
The invited guests had learned a great deal about Tzu Chi during the ceremony and site visits, and considered how their organizations might collaborate with TCMF in the future to benefit the community.
Citing Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s teachings about compassionate eating and how that can help lessen the probability of more zoonotic diseases spreading in the future, Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s CEO, Dr. William Keh, said that “Wearing a mask is just a means to stop viruses from entering one’s body, which is a temporary protection measure. Only vegetarianism can fundamentally improve the environment and stop the virus from coming back again and again.”
The A Better Meal, A Better Earth campaign was featured as well with preparations made by veteran volunteer, Mary Keh, who placed colorful vegetables and fruit in bamboo baskets. Then, a staff member, Bessie Nhan, and other volunteers prepared delicious Chinese plant-based lunches for the guests, who expressed amazement at how delicious the meals were.
Mindful Meals for a Healthier Earth
Darlene Burge, a guest from the Methodist Hospital, first ate a plant-based boxed meal from TCMF when they donated to her hospital three weeks prior. She pledged that very day to eat at least one vegetarian meal daily. She began to enjoy vegetables more, and started her own vegetable garden with eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and much more, and is quite proud of her achievements thus far. “We relied on Tzu Chi’s donated PPE to get through the pandemic,” she said. “Now, we see Tzu Chi volunteers urging people to be vegetarian, so I feel that it is incumbent on me to give back to society and urge my family and people around me to be a vegetarian.”
“This is the first time that I’ve been invited to come to Tzu Chi Medical Foundation,” Vilma Velasco of Huntington Beach explained. “Eating a plant-based meal is quite refreshing. It felt light and made my brain clearer. It tasted clean, not like one’s ordinary processed food. I’ll give myself a chance to become a vegetarian.”
“Our center has 99 patient beds. Tzu Chi Medical Foundation was the second organization that had helped us,” said Cheryl Fonknot, a representative of Royal Care Skilled Nursing Center in Long Beach.
Dr. Efren Grospe, director of the emergency department at Memorial Care, reached the event venue after 11:00, once he’d finished taking care of urgent cases at work. He told the gathering that Tzu Chi’s donations of PPE had been a great help when things were scarce. He went on to share his positive impression of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation and praised Tzu Chi for being a source of stability in the community.
“Tzu Chi delivered masks to us when we were most in need. They gave our nursing staff peace of mind,” said Grepa, of Hope International Hospice. “When I asked if Tzu Chi could help congregation members of the Baptist church, Tzu Chi volunteers agreed right away. Tzu Chi is a Buddhist organization whose love transcends religious boundaries.”
Frank Su and his wife, Joyce Jan, who are both board members of TCMF, have been volunteers for seven years, doing the foundation’s work with their own money and efforts. They have also advocated for a plant-based diet: “Prevention is better than treatment,” Su said. “Plant-based diets could help diminish infections, make people healthier, reduce the killing of animals for food, and protect the Earth. A Better Meal, A Better Earth will help purify people’s hearts.”