Buddhists hand out $160,000 in Palo for flood victims

By Molly Rossiter, The Gazette, June 30, 2008

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (USA) -- Volunteers with an international Buddhist service organization passed out more than $160,000 in cash cards to 309 families in Palo over the weekend to help them recover from June's devastating flood.

They hope to do more this weekend for the more than 3,500 families whose homes were damaged or destroyed in Cedar Rapids when the Cedar River hit a record crest on June 13.

"We are a charity foundation, and we have been here to help the flood victims' families," said Curtis Hsing, 49, emergency disaster services coordinator for Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation USA. The group is working in partnership with the American Red Cross.

Hsing arrived in the area a week after flooding left thousands of Eastern Iowans homeless and did damage assessments in Palo, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo and Cedar Falls.

Because of the widespread devastation in Palo, 18 volunteers from the Tzu Chi Foundation set up at the Palo fire station on Saturday and met with families who qualified for financial assistance.

Depending on their needs and the extent of their damage, Hsing said, families were given cards worth anywhere from $200 to $800. Each family also was given a blanket made from recycled plastic and was offered grief counseling.

Hsing said he has met with city officials to determine addresses and damage assessments. More than 100 volunteers will be in two locations at Westdale Mall on Friday through Sunday to help with applications and distribution of cash cards.

Funds will be distributed to those whose homes had a red, yellow or purple placard, he said. More information on the distribution will be released this week, Hsing said.

Funds for the cards are raised nationally in "street fundraising" activities, Hsing said. In a two-day period three weeks ago, volunteers raised more than $7 million for disaster victims in China and Myanmar.

After the Cedar Rapids program, Hsing said volunteers will be back in the area to do further assessments in Iowa City and Coralville, as well as in Cedar Falls and Waterloo. Palo and Cedar Rapids were addressed first, he said, because of the widespread damage caused by the flooding.