From Taiwan to Los Angeles, one volunteer's journey to feed her community

A woman in front of boxes of food.
May 3, 2022
by Paul Morello

Growing up in the Taiwanese countryside, Vera Yeh and her parents grew fruit, vegetables, rice and sugarcane. But they didn’t sell it – they gave it away.

“My mom would pack bags of food for our neighbors,” Vera remembers. “And she’d send me out and say, ‘go deliver to that house down the street.’ They loved to share fresh food with people.”

As Vera went to college, her parents’ generosity and passion for sharing fresh produce shaped her studies and she focused on dietetics and nutrition.

Now, in her retirement, Vera’s work is still guided by the importance of fresh fruit and vegetables. She’s the manager of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s food distribution program which serves Southern California.

“Our food pantry programs really focus on fresh produce and variety,” she said.

Tzu Chi, a Taiwanese nonprofit with its United States headquarters in California, provides other services, including medical and benefits outreach. They partner with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. The food pantry program has served nearly 360,000 people in the Anaheim area since it opened in 2016.

“The fresh produce we distribute provides all kinds of nutrients, calcium, Vitamin C, fibers and more,” Vera said. “Having that food really helps heal your body.”

“We dropped off produce to a mom and her daughter who had COVID,” Vera remembers. “They were both pretty sick. But, they called me a few days later and said that they were feeling better with the healthy food!”

And just like her parents were helping feed – and heal – their community in Taiwan, Vera continues that work in her own California community now.

“Food is medicine,” she said. “And good food makes you feel good.”