Some 40 volunteers from the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation visited the Tri-County Senior Center in Pacific last Saturday. They prayed, sang, showed videos on their 50-year-old philanthropic organization and handed out $125,000 in $500 Visa cards to families impacted by the recent flooding.

Families that had six members or more received $700 Visa cards.

This was Tzu Chi’s second visit to Pacific. On Jan. 9, 2016, the organization distributed $60,000 to victims of the 2015 flood.

Approximately 250 families that had been impacted by the recent flood were present for last week’s distribution. They had met Tzu Chi and qualified for the gifts during one of four multi-agency resource centers (MARCs) that Tzu Chi volunteers attended.

“Normally we would hand out $300 to each victim, but our master Cheng Yen said some of these people are still recovering from the 2015 flood and they need more,” said Chong Hseih, Chicago Tzu Chi director. “So we are giving each family $500.”

Recipients also received a backpack containing a large soft blanket imprinted with the Tzu Chi logo that was made from recycled plastic bottles.

“It took 6,000 recycled plastic bottles to make each blanket,” Hseih said. “We wanted to share this with each of you to show that recycling is part of our program to protect the environment.”

Hseih, who brought 26 volunteers with him from Chicago, said his organization had a special affinity for Pacific and the senior center because of the welcome they had received in 2016.

Tzu Chi was founded in 1966 in Taiwan when Dharma Master Cheng Yen encouraged a group of 30 housewives to place 2 cents a day from their grocery money into small bamboo banks.

In 2016, the organization included replicas of the bamboo banks in a backpack handed out to each victim.

Several individuals, who received replica bamboo banks and Visa cards from Tzu Chi Foundation following the December 2015 flood, returned their filled banks to the distribution event at the senior center May 20.

Diedra Bausch, of Sherman, and Rick Miller, House Springs, were the first to pour the contents of their replica bamboo banks into the large bowl to be returned to Tzu Chi.

Over time the organization has grown to a worldwide mission of charity that funds disaster relief and environmental protection.

As part of the Pacific ceremony Jeannie Guffey, senior center administrator, and Alderman Carol Johnson were invited to join Tzu Chi volunteers to hand out the first dozen backpacks and gift cards.

“I first met Tzu Chi in Washington, D.C., when I was there as a Red Cross volunteer following the Katrina disaster,” Guffey said. “We’re very grateful that they decided to include Pacific in their mission.”