On Feb. 24, volunteers from the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation distributed pandemic prevention kits containing the Biden administration’s N-95 masks and reminded the public to continue with pandemic prevention. Photo/Shuli LoDr. Lawrence Lai providing dental treatment to people in need at Tzu Chi’s Community Health and Wellness Fair
Written by Shuli Lo, Roger Kao
Edited by Chenglin Li and Maggie Morgan
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
On Feb. 24, The Tzu Chi Alhambra Medical Center in Southern California was home base for a pandemic-prevention distribution event. Tzu Chi’s Medical Foundation received 23,000 N-95 masks issued by the Biden administration, and included them in safety kits to hand out to the event’s attendees. We may be moving farther away from the most dangerous point in the pandemic thus far, but the coronavirus is still ebbing and flowing throughout the country.
As COVID-19 has slowly allowed us to exit crisis mode in the United States, the Omicron wave hasn’t washed away completely. Some state statistics continue to rise and fall, but overall hospitalizations and deaths have declined significantly. Despite higher vaccination rates and less fatalities, experts urge the population to continue to stay safe and be proactive. The CDC’s most recent report shows the average number of new cases per day is around 30,000; while the total number is slowly decreasing, its volume still proves how prevalent the virus is in the U.S..
The clinic under the jurisdiction of the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation is certified as a Federally Qualified Health Center which undertakes the responsibility of maintaining the health of community residents. Centers who operate under FQHC certifications must comply with strict regulations and are monitored under a government board. These centers primarily cater to underserved communities to provide accessible medical care for those in need.
The clinic applied for a mass supply of N-95 masks to offer the community more resources to protect themselves from the virus. After applying for and receiving the masks, they were immediately distributed to three medical institutions in Alhambra, South El Monte, and Wilmington, Los Angeles. The supplies were handed out on a daily basis in order to protect as many patients as possible.
“Tzu Chi Medical Foundation can assist the U.S. government in the distribution of masks. We are very happy and proud to be able to serve our community” said Dr. William Keh, chairman of the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation.
Dr. Keh pointed out: “Although the government has gradually relaxed the policy of mask mandate, masks are still very much needed by everyone, especially when participating in large-scale community activities, or grocery shopping. It is best to always have a mask handy.”
A Community that Cares: Tzu Chi’s Anti-Pandemic Kits Draw in Residents
Volunteers began preparing for the distribution early in the afternoon as they neatly arranged anti-pandemic kits. Each set of supplies included two large N-95 masks (for adults), two small N-95 masks (for children), one disinfectant wipe, and one hand sanitizer. The Tzu Chi team waited at the distribution booth in front of the medical center for beneficiaries to pick up their kits. Volunteers encouraged visitors to spread the word about the anti-pandemic kits with relatives and friends to help protect their community as much as possible.
All medical centers under Tzu Chi’s care also provided anti-pandemic kits to their patients who visited for in-person appointments. The employees took the time to instruct patients in detail on how to use the anti-pandemic kit. The added support and attention from medical staff assured patients that their health and wellness was of the utmost importance.
Several residents caught wind of Tzu Chi’s pandemic- prevention kits through promotion on various media channels. The booth had effectively grabbed the attention of members of the community both organically and through the center’s planning. On the day of the event, the line held a wide array of people from those who knew ahead of time to pedestrians, people walking their dog and even drivers passing by. As some attendants entered the drive-thru upon seeing the free supplies, they exclaimed: “I like the anti-pandemic kit very much, thank you!”
Dr. Stephen Denq, CEO of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, took the time to comment on the success of the event:
“In the past two months, Tzu Chi’s affiliated clinics have been actively promoting rapid COVID tests.” Dr. Denq explained, “In the beginning, almost every week, ten people with positive tests were screened, and most of them were asymptomatic but actively going about in our community.”
Taking Health into Their Own Hands: Residents Remain Cautious in the Face of Uncertainty
Even though the state of California no longer requires residents to wear masks, many people are continuing to uphold previous government regulations to stay safe. Many ethnically Chinese residents have remained vigilant throughout the course of the coronavirus, and a large percentage continue to keep their guard up. Proactive people still insist on wearing masks to prevent possible new variants as well as stop from spreading illness to others.
Meijuan Guo, a colleague of the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, who assisted in the distribution and reception of media personnel, said, “I hope that people will come to the Tzu Chi Medical Center to pick up N-95 masks and protect each other’s health. Since we all have to continue coexisting with the virus, we must remind the public not only to wear masks to protect themselves, but also to maintain the good habit of frequent handwashing. If you are worried about being in a crowded place, you can protect yourself with the more protective N-95 masks.”
Ai Yang, a citizen wearing a medical mask, told Tzu Chi volunteers, “We don’t have N-95 masks, we all use this (medical mask).” Being able to get masks gave people a better sense of security. Although the number of masks in each pandemic prevention bag is limited, recipients are able to better protect themselves at crowded places whereas they may not have had the ability to do so before.
Andi Wang brought his 80-year-old mother to the booth to grab a mask. He said to the volunteers, “I also visit doctors from Tzu Chi. I am very grateful! Tzu Chi is my old friend.”
Once Andi saw the N- 95 masks in the bag, he exclaimed: “Of course, it is better to have N-95 masks. These are used by medical staff. Wearing this will make you feel more at ease when you go to places with many people. It can help put a barrier between me and my family with the virus, so I feel more at ease.”
Single father Fernando Paco had just lost his wife. When he came to collect a kit, he mentioned: “I am here to collect the mask for the children. I have four children. I hope they are all safe.”
He explained that there are frequent incidents of cross-infection on campus, so the N-95 masks could help reduce the risk of infection for his children. In addition to masks, the hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes in the package are essentials children can use in preventing illness picked up at school.
Ling Yang had come to the clinic for a doctor’s appointment, but had the opportunity to take three packs of pandemic-prevention kits for her elderly mother and elderly neighbors. Ling said, “For everyone’s health and safety, we will continue to wear masks and keep our hands disinfected frequently. We continue to take personal hygiene seriously, and I hope everyone can continue to stay safe and healthy.”
Stepping into a Better Tomorrow: Tzu Chi USA Treads Forward, Introduces Walkathon
The entire mission of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation revolves around alleviating the suffering of all beings, in any situation. Adversity shows up in many different forms and our team’s goal is to meet individuals and communities where they are at. We want to solve problems on a spiritual and physical level, finding hope first and taking actionable steps second.
As COVID-19 sent wave after wave crashing on top of already-distressed populations, Tzu Chi’s Regional Offices created plans tailored to each unique situation. Whether our teams were setting up food drives, handing out cash cards, or dispersing medical kits, the past two years have been about hearing deeply personal stories and offering a way to get to the next chapter of life.
Tzu Chi volunteers utilized the gathering of community residents at the clinic as a platform to spread awareness about the organization’s Compassion in Action: 2022 Walkathon.
Our organization wants beneficiaries and benefactors alike to know we are walking with you on the journey to a better tomorrow. Sign up for the Walkathon as an individual or join us as we raise funds for two of our major focuses: medicine and education. Tzu Chi USA thought the pandemic-prevention distribution event was an ideal example of how our funds go back into communities during their times of need; it showed attendees exactly how we use our donations to address urgent issues and current crisis events.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, each branch of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has risen to the occasion and fought fearlessly on behalf of those in need. The Tzu Chi Medical Foundation has been especially critical throughout this period, both as an educational resource and a leader for our other sectors. Volunteers have been on the frontlines of service, remaining steadfast to their roles and working to anticipate any possible changes in the future. We’re extremely grateful to work within communities who are not only willing to ask for help in curbing the coronavirus, but excited to spread awareness of Tzu Chi USA and its mission.