Nichole Estrada is a single mother from Grizzly Flats. Her home in the beautiful forested town in California was still newly finished when the Caldor Fire sparked on August 14, 2021, devastating the area. Upon recalling the care and relief provided by Tzu Chi volunteers, however, she was brought to tears, saying, “I am so glad to have received Tzu Chi’s generous and timely assistance. It reminds me that love, benevolence, and hope still exist in the world.”
Due to its ferocity, the Caldor Fire was active for over 30 days even despite the extraordinary efforts of dedicated responders. Thousands of structures were destroyed, and 219,101 acres have been affected thus far. Many Caldor Fire survivors lost their homes and all of their possessions within a single night.
Tzu Chi volunteers Judy Liao and Renee Liu conduct their assessment in the hardest-hit areas. Photos/Renee Liu, Judy Liao
In late August, Tzu Chi volunteers in Sacramento began conducting their assessment mission and visited community members on August 23 and August 28 to offer their support. On August 30, volunteers assembled at the Local Assistance Center (LAC) to offer essential supplies and distribution services. And on September 3 and September 4, twenty-two Tzu Chi volunteers donated a total of $45,300 in disaster relief cash cards, benefiting 265 families.
Tzu Chi volunteers provide relief at the local assistance center. Photos/Nancy Ku, Robert Ku, Minjhing Hsieh
- The Grizzly Flats Community
Ash and debris from the Caldor Fire makes breathing dangerous. Photo/Judy Liao
Nichole Estrada works at a hospital in a neighboring city. After years of dedicated efforts, she attained her college degree and, at the end of October 2020, made a beautiful place she and her children could call home. Grizzly Flats was a small, wooded town with over 1,000 family units. The Caldor Fire, however, had devastated the community.
It was not long after the disaster that Tzu Chi volunteers arrived on the scene to offer their care and assistance. Upon receiving the monetary relief that would help cover her daily necessities, Nichole was moved deeply, expressing, “We will stay strong. Thanks to Tzu Chi’s help, we are able to rebuild our lives. When I return to work, I will also contribute my all to give back to the society where help is most needed.”
Nichole accepts a soft and warm DA.AI Technology eco-friendly blanket from a Tzu Chi volunteer. Photo/Judy Liao
- A Little Girl’s Wish
A little girl, Jeraldeen, and her mom came to the distribution to pick up their own Tzu Chi cash card. At eight years old, Jeraldeen is already a wonderful help to her mother and has a very kind and loving spirit. She assisted with translation for her mother while at the distribution, and upon seeing the work that Tzu Chi volunteers do to serve the community, shared a special wish before leaving. “I know what I want to do when I grow up,” said Jeraldeen. “I want to become a volunteer, just like you.”
Before the Caldor Fire, Jeraldeen’s mother worked at a bakery in the Grizzly Flats community, making delicious pastries and desserts for visitors. The fire impacted not only their home but her job as well. Even so, upon receiving the Tzu Chi bamboo bank, Jeraldeen responded with a smile, “I will take good care of it and fill it with love.”
A Tzu Chi volunteer explains how to activate the disaster relief cash card to Jeraldeen and her mother. Photo/Judy Liao
-Wildfire Upon Wildfire
Julie Graham lost her job after experiencing an illness. Upon receiving the direct assistance in the form of a cash card, she said, “I am thankful that I have come here, and I am especially grateful for Tzu Chi volunteers’ help. This cash card means to me the entire world right now.”
Two years ago, Julie and her husband lost their home in a mountain community to another wildfire. They have since lived with Julie’s in-laws located in the Grizzly Flats community. They also purchased a trailer home for themselves. However, the Caldor Fire burnt both their trailer and their in-law’s home to ashes. The entire family quickly escaped with no possibility of bringing any possessions along. They were then faced with the urgent need to rent a new home to settle down. When speaking of the Tzu Chi cash card, Julie said, “this card is really a great help in our path to search for a rental home and rebuild our lives.”
Julie and her husband receive a Tzu Chi cash card to aid in rebuilding their lives after the wildfire. Photo/Judy Liao
-Timely Response Following The Disaster
On August 30, when the LAC was established, volunteers from Tzu Chi’s Sacramento Service Center were the first to be stationed on-site among the many humanitarian relief organizations. The LAC is located inside the gym at Folsom Lake College – El Dorado Center. As the indoor capacity was limited, Tzu Chi volunteers moved their workstations outside to ensure they could handle registration and supply collection in a streamlined and attentive process during consecutive days of resource distributions on September 3 and September 4.
Tzu Chi holds a cash card distribution event outdoors. Photo/Judy Liao, Nancy Ku
A Tzu Chi volunteer named Peggy Lee immigrated at a young age with her father from China to South America for work, and later relocated to the U.S. for school. She’s used her multilingual skills to support recent volunteer services at the Tzu Chi Sacramento Office, assisting with translation for Chinese, English, and Spanish guests. During Tzu Chi’s recent Dixie Fire relief mission in the summer of 2021, Peggy also played a key role as a translator.
Peggy recalled the challenges she experienced due to language barriers at first, and is deeply touched by the feelings of relief and warmth expressed by care recipients upon receiving her assistance. Peggy believes this capacity to assist and allow survivors to be truly heard is more than enough of a reward for her work. “When an eight-year-old girl said that Tzu Chi has inspired her to help others when she grows up, I was really touched,” said Peggy.
Tzu Chi volunteers from Sacramento and San Jose work together during the distribution event. Photo/Robert Ku
Written by Christina Chang
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Link to Tzu Chi USA：https://tzuchi.us/blog/experiencing-the-joy-of-volunteering-on-a-disaster-aid-mission-in-louisiana