CINCINNATI — After Berzabe Lopez moved to Cincinnati’s East Price Hill neighborhood about 20 years ago, it didn’t take her long to connect with Santa Maria Community Services.
Santa Maria helped Lopez with some of the resources her family needed, she said, and Lopez has been spreading the word about the organization to other families in the community ever since.
“I am always giving a hand to other people,” Lopez said in Spanish. “Not everybody wants to be helped, but I always like to extend a hand to help people.”
Lopez does far more than that, said Luz Elena Schemmel, Santa Maria’s outreach and wellness director. Schemmel has known Lopez for years. She suggested Lopez for WCPO 9’s Acts of Kindness feature and translated for her during an interview.
“She’s a really kind, sweet lady that she’s always looking how to help the community,” Schemmel said. “If she sees a mom walking down the street, she will talk to them. She will share about information, resources. She will call me to see we can help them.”
Roughly 40% of the families that Santa Maria serves are Spanish speakers, Schemmel said, so having Lopez approach other moms in Spanish goes a long way toward making lasting connections.
“It’s super important just to know that you can communicate clearly,” she said. “That there is no reason for misinterpretation.”
For Lopez, it’s all about building trust.
“To talk to them and to make sure that they feel confidence that we are here to be their friends,” Schemmel said, interpreting for Lopez. “And, too, if they talk to us, they can share private things and we are able to help them more.”
There are many families in East Price Hill who need information and resources, Lopez said.
“For example, how to complete a Medicaid or Medicare application to make sure their kids have medical care,” Schemmel said, interpreting for Lopez. “Something I would like is to have another office in Price Hill where they have bilingual personnel that can help with financial applications for the hospital. That’s something we need in the community.”
Lopez also is a big promoter of Santa Maria’s community garden, located behind the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library’s Price Hill branch.
“She invites so many people,” Schemmel said. “When I think of the job that Santa Maria does in the communities, we are helping the neighbors to have a better neighborhood. So she’s one of our neighbors, and she’s helping other neighbors to do better and have access to different resources and empower families with information or different things that the individual might need.”
Inviting people to participate with the community garden was especially important during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lopez said, when people were feeling isolated in their homes.
“Once they came to the community garden, we were able to share experiences and feel better,” Schemmel said, interpreting for Lopez. “And feel that they could trust us, and we reflect that we also trust them. We create that trust relationship with the community.”
That trust is especially strong in a Santa Maria women’s group for Spanish-speaking residents that meets weekly.
Growing a stronger East Price Hill
At a recent meeting, Lopez and other women listened to a lecture in Spanish by Lucy Acevedo-Lopez about healthy eating and then watched a cooking demonstration about how to make a healthy meal on a budget.
Acevedo-Lopez, a program assistant for The Ohio State University’s OSU Extension office in Hamilton County, filled paper plates with a dish containing quinoa, beans and corn so all the women and children there could taste it afterwards.
“I talk to so many people about resources and about Santa Maria,” Schemmel said, interpreting for Lopez. “I think a lot of the people that come to Santa Maria are because I am telling them about the things that Santa Maria has to offer.”
Another important offering is in the works, Schemmel said. Santa Maria and Price Hill Will are working on a memorandum of understanding, she said, so the Santa Maria women’s group can have their own community garden on a dormant plot owned by Price Hill Will.
Lopez will be front and center on the project, and she stressed that the entire garden will be organic.
For her, she said, the work is about growing more than food; it’s about growing a stronger community.
“There is a phrase that says if you have a really strong, big tree with good roots and everybody hangs onto that tree, that makes a better person and the neighborhood better,” Schemmel said, interpreting for Lopez.
So, is Santa Maria the tree?
“Si,” Lopez said. “Exactamente.”
More information about Santa Maria Community Services is available online.
Acts of Kindness stories appear weekly on WCPO 9 News and WCPO.com. If you know about an act of kindness that you think should be highlighted, email email@example.com.