An Array of Aid Across America (Part 2)

By Ida Eva Zielinska

Wildfires ravage many communities on the West Coast in 2020, leaving some residents homeless. Photo/C.M. Yung


Flu Shots to Help Protect Against Illness

Flu shots are another recurring necessity during late fall and winter, and Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region volunteers in the New York metropolitan area were proactive to meet that demand. Before the flu season began, the volunteers provided two free flu shot events for low-income or uninsured individuals; one in Long Island, alongside a food pantry on October 24, the second on October 25 in Flushing, at the Northeast Region’s offices there. 

Dr. Lok Yung, a Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) member, inquires about patients' overall health before administering the flu vaccine. Photo/Hui Liu

The team implemented an appointment system to limit the number of people gathering and administer the flu shots in the shortest possible time. A total of 100 people were to be served, as that is the number of vaccinations Dr. Weichien Chang, Medical Coordinator for Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region, had obtained for the two events.

People can still register on-site for the free flu shots intended for low-income or uninsured families. Photo/Hui Liu

Thanks to the appointment system, the teams could administer shots for six to eight people every 30 minutes while minimizing person-to-person contact. Individuals without appointments could still register on-site, but volunteers required everyone to wear masks and maintain safe social distances. 

In Flushing, medical volunteers Kristine Tseng and Dr. Lok Yung, an Infectious Disease Specialist and Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) member, prepared general volunteers by familiarizing them with procedures and protective measures. Dr. Yung and a nurse, Connie Chu, then administered the vaccines at the scheduled times. 

The day before, at the Northeast Region’s Long Island Branch, Catholic Health’s Mercy Medical Center partnered with Tzu Chi for the event, and their staff was responsible for administering the flu vaccine. 

The pandemic has raised awareness about flu vaccination since certain influenza symptoms are similar to those of COVID-19. Heightened vigilance incentivized some to get vaccinated for the first time, even the young. Mr. Yong, 26, was among them, making an exception and getting a shot this winter season.

Experts are advising us that the flu vaccine can give protection, and it also gives me peace of mind.

Free Prescription Glasses for Adults

Another medical care effort also went forward in Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region near the end of 2020: Vision care outreach in New York City’s Queens Borough, in Elmhurst, one of the neighborhoods most severely impacted by the pandemic. 

Tzu Chi USA’s Vision Mobile Clinic provides free vision care in Elmhurst, Queens Borough, New York, on November 7, 2020. Photo/Hector Muniente

On November 7, Tzu Chi USA’s Vision Mobile Clinic drove to and stationed itself in front of the Centro Civico Colombiano in Elmhurst, then provided free vision tests and prescription glasses throughout the day, primarily for low-income Hispanic families. Whereas Tzu Chi’s vision care outreach in the Greater New York area previously focused on school-aged children, this time, it served middle-aged and elderly residents.

After the vision tests, trained volunteers help care recipients choose a pair of glasses inside Tzu Chi USA’s Vision Mobile Clinic. Photo/Hector Muniente

New York Supreme Court Justice Carmen R. Velasquez, a board member of the non-profit Brigada de Esperanza NY that co-hosted the outreach, was on hand to welcome the vision care patients. Everyone had applied for the free service beforehand, then registered if they were eligible.

As long as you meet the standards for low-income families, our volunteers welcome everyone to apply. You don’t need to wait for long; you can get new glasses on the same day!

Serving during the outreach were more than 20 Hispanic volunteers, who had just completed training provided by Tzu Chi in affiliation with Brigada de Esperanza NY, and were finally, for the first time, helping people in need of eye exams and glasses. Judge Velasquez took the opportunity to thank Freeman Su, Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region, for the resources and volunteer training by optometrist Dr. James Chuang that made this vision care for New York’s Hispanic communities possible.

However, perhaps the vision care patients themselves had the most reason to feel grateful. Alicia Degro, a single mother raising four children, exclaimed, “A pair of glasses costs $300 plus, which is more than my income for a week!” Alicia is now supporting her family on half the income she had before the pandemic took its toll. The free multifocal glasses she received are a blessing since her insurance doesn’t cover vision care.

Alicia Degro undergoes vision tests that determine the prescription she will need. Photo/Daphne Liu

As a construction worker with an unstable income and lack of medical insurance, Mavro Quintuna was also in desperate need of free vision care and, as he discovered, glasses.

I noticed having problems with my eyesight, but without health insurance, it is very difficult to get help. I need to have clear vision at work, and with these lenses, I can see much better, and the difference is very noticeable.

Some of the 22 Elmhurst residents who came to the free clinic that day got glasses with the appropriate correction for the first time. Sixty-six-year-old Alberto Alarcon has had problems with his vision for years and relied on $10 generic reading glasses to get by. The moment he tried a pair from Tzu Chi with the correct prescription, he was overjoyed, also marveling at how quickly he got them.

With event co-organizer Judge Carmen Velasquez (front left) and TIMA volunteer Richard Yang (right) beside him, Alberto Alarcon proudly shows his new glasses. Photo/Jupiter Chiou

I’m able to see again with these glasses! It didn’t take too long, not so much time, about one hour, thank you once again.

Individual Care Leaves No One Behind

Beyond distributions and other charity aid events, Tzu Chi USA volunteers have also been diligently reaching out within the communities they serve to identify those who may need help as individual care cases during the pandemic.

Teams of Tzu Chi and local community volunteers make home visits in East Palo Alto to provide cash cards, cloth masks, and other aid to low-income families. Photos/Leslie Shieh

In East Palo Alto, California, Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region volunteers are informing residents of available aid through flyers. Since they collaborate with the Ravenswood City School District, where Tzu Chi’s Happy Campus program is a steadfast presence, flyers about food distributions are being sent home to students’ families. Volunteers also took the initiative to distribute the flyers at a federally funded COVID-19 screening and testing site at the local YMCA.

A network of local community volunteers built through the Happy Campus program is vital in these outreach efforts. Together, teams of Tzu Chi and local community volunteers are following up with families who can’t make it to food distributions, bringing cash cards and supplies directly to their homes. Additionally, since the local volunteers know the community well and speak Spanish in many cases, they can refer more eligible low-income families and help with translation if need be.

This personalized care is invaluable. During home visits, the teams learn of the hardships these households endure, many of whom consist of single-parent or undocumented families. From income reductions due to job loss or the deportation of family members to chronic illnesses, grave medical conditions, and infection with COVID-19, their stories are heartbreaking. The aid provided by Tzu Chi is more critical than ever.

Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region volunteers head to a hotel lobby in Houston to provide disaster relief to Hurricane Laura evacuees from Louisiana. Photo/Roger Lin

In Tzu Chi USA’s Southern Region, volunteers also sought to provide individual case support when needed. Through their connections, they learned that even weeks after Hurricane Laura struck in Louisiana, damaging their home, a mother and daughter who had evacuated to Texas were still living in a hotel in Houston, and needed help.

Ms. Battenfield’s mother had knee surgery a few weeks before the hurricane, affecting her mobility, and the daughter herself suffers from seizures and can’t drive. Although they had home insurance, it was no longer paying for hotel accommodations, while the trailer promised to them would not be available for another few weeks. The two had nowhere to go as they struggled to subsist on their social security and disability benefits.

After contacting them to better understand their situation and determine the appropriate course of action, a team of volunteers went to the hotel on December 4. They duly offered the mother and daughter a cash card and care package to help them get by until their new home is ready, providing financial and moral support.

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