Debit cards help out flood victims


POSTED: Monday, January 05, 2009

A Buddhist group gave out more than a hundred debit cards yesterday to help families affected by the flooding in last month's storm.

Tzu Chi Foundation, based in Taiwan, gave out the cash cards at the Waialua District Park Gym with the help of the state Civil Defense and the Hawaii National Guard.

Phone Quang left with a gray blanket and a debit card worth $300 that she will use to buy clothes and shoes for her twin 16-year-old boys.

“;I so happy they help like this,”; she said. “;My boys, they need new clothes, new shoes.”;

The family of three lost everything in the flood in Waialua. Quang, who grew cucumbers on the farm before the storm, has to wait about three to five months before the fields will be ready to plant again.

She was denied food stamps because she has $2,000 a savings account for her boys when they graduate.

“;I no more house. I live inside the field, just make shack,”; she said.

Most of the families receiving help were called from a list of about 400 compiled by the state Civil Defense and the Red Cross, said Danny Tengan, the Civil Defense coordinator for the project.

Army National Guard members verified the damage sustained by families not on the list that walked into the center, he said. The Civil Defense and Tzu Chi will make more home visits today to find people on the list who could not be reached by phone.

“;These people are so good,”; Tengan said. “;I've bowed so many times. They're good people. They're hugging people.”;

After receiving help, Lisa Barr, 37, hugged the Tzu Chi volunteer helping her. She lost her entire house in the storm.

“;I am so grateful for these people,”; she said. “;I have nothing. I lost it all.”;

She said she is now living in a pickup truck that was given to her.

“;We have no place to go,”; she said.

A friend told her about Tzu Chi's disaster relief. When she showed up, they gave her a $500 card. “;I didn't even know about this,”; she said. “;It lifts my spirits up.”;

Jerome Fan, executive director of the Taiwan Tzu Chi Foundation in Hawaii, said about 65 volunteers helped hand out 117 cards yesterday.

Group volunteers, dressed in blue shirts with white collars, gave out cards with $500, $300 or $100 for damage ranging from major to minimal.

Fan said about 50 families were given $500 cards.

Tzu Chi has $80,000 set aside for this disaster. “;In doing this, we increase our wisdom, open our minds,”; Fan said.

Tzu Chi has helped with disasters around the world, but this was the first time that the group held a large disaster-relief effort in Hawaii.

“;I think after today a lot of local people who didn't even know who Tzu Chi is, their hearts have been opened up,”; said downtown resident and group member Wendy Loh.

Disaster relief is one mission of the group, which collects monthly donations from members.

Tzu Chi volunteers also gave each household that came a gray blanket made from 100 percent plastic bottles, collected by members too poor to donate money.

“;We hope that the people ... they will have touch of the love through Tzu Chi,”; Fan said.