New York City Comptroller John Liu announced yesterday at a relief center in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, that the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, an international humanitarian organization had contributed $10 million to those affected by Hurricane Sandy in New York City.
“When crisis strikes, benevolence emerges,” said Liu, who had encouraged the foundation to make the gift. “This is an unprecedented contribution, and I have spoken to families who have received this, and they are so grateful.”
Some $6 million has already been distributed to 10,000 families as of last night, mostly in the form of $600 debit cards to families affected by Sandy. The organization expects to distribute the remaining $4 million by Thanksgiving, said George Chang, the executive director of the Tzu Chi Foundation.
The relief effort, which the foundation began immediately after Sandy hit, has targeted areas that were hit hardest by the storm. Tzu Chi sent disaster evaluation teams to assess damage in areas identified as worst hit, said Austin Chu, a program associate at the Tzu Chi Foundation.
Volunteers at the organization too have been going door-to-door in storm-ravaged neighborhoods, handing out pink invitation cards to residents alerting them about the location of relief centers, where they would receive Tzu Chi’s cash assistance. In the past week, the foundation has provided cash contributions at West Hamilton on November 10, and Broad Channel on November 11.
On Sunday afternoon, it was Gerritsen Beach’s turn. Hundreds of people lined up along the corridor inside P.S. 277. There was restless chatter among the individuals and families waiting in line. Those affected were required to fill out a form listing their damage, and present it to a Tzu Chi representative. Once the representative verified that the applicant’s address was in an area affected by Sandy, the family was given the visa card to spend however they chose.
“As long as people can prove that they are living in an affected area, then they are eligible to receive the card,” Chu said. “We only offer one card per family.”
However the foundation has refrained from revealing the future locations of relief centers to the general public to avoid overcrowding and to restrict access to only those who had been severely affected by the storm, said Chu.
To better reach those residents, Tzu Chi has also relied on local religious leaders. “They are helping us by using their network in their communities to identify the hardest hit areas as well as to introduce us to people who are on the ground,” Chu said.
Among those assisting were The Interfaith Center of New York, The Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, The Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush, and the N.Y. Hindu Milan Mandir, also in Queens.
“The Tzu Chi Foundation has shown us all that just as suffering has no discrimination, good should have no discrimination either,” said Rev. Gary Simpson of the Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, yet another religious organization helping Tzu Chi’s relief efforts.
At the Gerritsen Beach location, people were slowly ushered into the gym, where, their application was processed. The room buzzed with conversation, and residents shared their sorrows and experiences with one another.
Jennifer Conlon, 46, who had waited in line for an hour, rattled off some of the items she lost in the hurricane. “I lost my furnace, water heater, washer and dryer, books, and furniture,” she said. “But I am saddest about losing the memories and pictures.”
Sheuli Choudhuri, 52, lost her boiler, heater, and refrigerator. “I’m scared I won’t be able to feed my children,” she said. “I may have to leave my house in the near future.”
Choudhuri felt the government had not yet reached all the affected areas. She felt grateful for Tzu Chi’s contribution, even though it amounted to a fraction of her costs. “The $600 is not sufficient,” she said, “but at this point anything is good. Something is better than nothing, right?”
Others were more optimistic. Margaret Wyszinski, 61, was at the relief center on behalf of her 80-year-old parents, whose home suffered extensive electric and water damage.
“I try to think the government is doing as much as it can, given that people who are helping have lives, and they can’t works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” she said. “The government is successfully bringing in organizations like Tzu Chi to help. It’s the most they can do.”
The Tzu Chi Foundation was set up by a Buddhist nun in Taiwan in 1966. Initially its work was centered on disaster relief in China, but it has increased its presence in the world in the past decade. Tzu Chi – which means passionate relief -- assisted victims in NYC in the aftermath of 9/11. Hurricane Sandy provided the group with yet another chance to have a big impact in the city.
“We have three rules at Tzu Chi,” said Chang. “No business, no politics, no religion. We help people regardless of their religion, race and nationality.”