On September 11th, 2001, two planes crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Nearly 3,000 people died in the deadliest incident on American soil since Pearl Harbor. The Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, and Tzu Chi were the only charity organizations allowed access to Ground Zero.
“During this time… I was especially moved by an organization at the New Jersey Family Assistance Center… a Buddhist compassion relief organization, Tzu Chi Foundation USA, who donated $1,000 to my family on the spot.”
— Russa Steiner, Victim of 9/11
Tzu Chi set up service stations at Pier 94, the Chinese Community Center in Chinatown, and the New Jersey Office of Recovery, and distributed $2.7 million in direct aid to those affected. Two years later, we were providing disaster relief again …
Tzu Chi rushed to provide emergency aid, distributing more than $1 million to families affected.
In 2007, California wildfires raged again, forcing the evacuation of over 10,000 people, and leaving areas in Santa Barbara, Yorba Linda, Corona, and Brea in blackened ruins, with more than 1,000 homes burnt to the ground.
Tzu Chi volunteers collaborated with the American Red Cross to assess the damage, then gave out checks of $300– $500 to victims, providing emergency relief in their time of need.
“They helped us out and gave us some money. It wasn’t a huge amount, it wasn’t gonna rebuild the house… but it was pretty inspirational.”
— David Kassel, Victim of 2003 San Diego Wildfire
Tzu Chi quickly set up shop at the Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where volunteers offered $500 cash cards, eco-friendly blankets, and warm hugs to displaced families.
In 2009 in neighboring Kentucky, record flooding decimated Breathitt, one of the state's poorest counties. Wendy Rice and Ervine Allen, residents of Jackson, each lost their home in the flood.
They both got an emergency boost from Tzu Chi, and five years later, they still remember and keep Tzu Chi in mind ...
“With the cash card, I got cleaning supplies, paper towels, dishes, shoes, underwear. Anything that I need because basically everything that I had got destroyed.”
— Wendy Rice, Jackson, Kentucky Resident
“They gave me that $500 dollar gift card and I used that to buy the essential elements, and I thank God for them and I thank them for the love of human beings, for mankind, that they showed by coming here to help us with the disaster.”
— Irvine Allen, Jackson, KY Resident
Volunteers organized distributions in two towns, and 150 families received cash cards of $500 each. 250 eco-scarves made from recycled plastic bottles and 205 Bamboo Banks were distributed as well. But recovery is a slow process ...
“Just shoes. That’s all we could get. Just shoes and my glasses.”
— Amelia Gomez’s Granddaughter, Evans, Colorado Resident
“I was crying so much… so much because it’s really, really hard. And I know I’m a really strong woman… but not this time.”
— Maricela Zawala, Evans, Colorado Resident
Tzu Chi volunteers from Seattle gave out blankets, copies of Jing Si Aphorisms, bamboo banks, and cash cards to those hit hardest. They gave people without heat plenty of warmth.
Tzu Chi volunteers from Texas and Oklahoma mobilized swiftly and gave cash cards and blankets to 124 families. These were of practical help, but also a sign of love and encouragement for the victims of this terrifying disaster.
Hurricane Katrina spared no one. It is recorded as the costliest natural disaster in United States history. The damage totaled $67.8 billion.
Tzu Chi distributed cash cards and checks to 3,838 households, committing $4 million to emergency relief efforts. Emotional comfort, however, is priceless.
But Louisiana isn’t the only place to experience devastating damage …
In September 2009, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck the Pacific near American Samoa. The quake triggered a tsunami that flooded the island. Over 20 people died.
In American Samoa, Tzu Chi volunteers from Hawaii worked with NVOAD, to provide relief supplies and emergency cash for communities hit by the earthquake and the brutal tsunami that followed.
External photo sources: Flickr (Photos by Slagheap, Erick Pleitez, Marion Doss, The U.S. Army, The National Guard, State Farm, and Infrogmation of New Orleans), Breathitt County Public Library, Wikimedia Commons, FEMA.gov (multimedia library), and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT photo library on Flickr).