Tzu Chi volunteers in New York distributed 420 blankets in one day to victims of Hurricane Sandy who are enduring zero temperatures. They wanted to bring them warmth and comfort and tell them that they have not been forgotten by the world.
The largest Atlantic hurricane on record, Sandy swept through the Caribbean before reaching the eastern United States on October 29 and affecting 24 states. It badly damaged many districts of New York city, especially low-lying areas and those close to the sea front. During the last five days, temperatures in the city have fallen to between zero and eight degrees Celsius and below zero in some places. According to the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, 30-40,000 people need shelter and many are still living in reception centers. They are short of cooking oil and food; in addition, they do not have power or sufficient clothing. So the city government has called for urgent supplies from outside.
After the hurricane, Joanne Smith and Lauren O’Connel posted on Facebook an appeal for contributions of clothing and warm food, in the hope that everyone will pool their efforts to help those affected. John Liu, New York City Comptroller, saw the appeal and immediately telephoned the foundation’s New York branch; he asked that its members help to provide materials. On November 5, U.S. time, the volunteers decided to set up a tent on Rockaway Beach to supply hot food, cash cards and blankets to the victims. In addition to those from Tzu Chi, volunteers from many places came to provide goods.
Rockaway Beach is a district on the Rockaway peninsula in the borough of Queens. Most of the residents are poor or lower middle class. During several days of investigation, the volunteers discovered that homes near the shore had been seriously affected by the hurricane.
Joanne, a resident of Rockaway Beach, said: “Today is twice as big as yesterday. It's amazing the generosity from people from everywhere. Churches, organizations, fire houses have been so so very generous to the people in Rockaway Beach. And, everybody needs to know that we are not forgotten... they are not gonna forgot us. This is our home.”
“We need contractor bags. We need batteries. We need generators, and just people to help. We need clean supplies. People to shovel the sand out of your house, you know, and the backyard. Just manpower.” Joan, a Rockaway Beach resident, said.
Tzu Chi volunteer, Du Mei-ji, said: “the weather is getting colder and colder. What people most need is hot soup and coffee. Tzu Chi is the strongest support for everyone.”
In addition to serving hot food, the volunteers had another important duty. Nine of them formed a team which went to three religious centers to distribute blankets. Among the nine was a government English teacher named Louis who has lived for a long time in the Flushing district of the city and served at the branch there; previously, he lived in Rockaway Beach and therefore wanted to take part in the Tzu Chi team on this occasion.
Their first stop was the United Methodist Far Rockaway where they distributed 50 blankets. Then they hurried to St Gertrude’s Church, where they set up two tables; they bowed to show their love and respect and, within 50 minutes, helped to distribute 200 blankets. The final stop was St Mary’s Church. It was biting cold, with temperature of zero Celsius, and they carried the blankets in large and small bundles. At the church, they gave out 200 of them.
While they were at the church, they learnt that their help and concern was needed at the nearby New Haven Senior Center; without further ado, they went there to visit the residents. As soon as they entered, the volunteers saw that, in these freezing temperatures, the residents had no heating. Despite their wearing thick clothes, they were still cold and needed warmth. So they immediately gave blankets to make them feel warmer.
Tzu Chi was the only organization to distribute blankets in Rockaway Beach. By doing so, the volunteers wanted to give warmth and blessings to the residents and help them through this difficult time. In total, during a single day, they gave out 420 blankets, to provide unlimited warmth in the freezing weather.
The next morning Rockaway Beach became colder and colder. Tzu Chi volunteers will continue not only to provide warmth and blessings to the victims of Sandy but also let them know that they have not been forgotten by the world.
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