Zenaida Arcos is the most consistent volunteer at the Christian food distribution program at St. Norbert Church in Orange.
ZENAIDA ARCOS RECENTLY RECIEVED SPECIAL RECOGNITION FROM CONGRESSMAN LOU CORREA FOR HER YEAERS OF SERVICE TO THE ST. NORBERT FOOD DISTRIBUTION PROGRAM. PHOTO COURTESY OF ST. NORBERT PARISH
If the 92-year-old isn’t the first to show up each week to prepare food boxes in the church parking lot on Taft Street, she’s almost certainly the first in line to start helping.
MARÍA RAMOS AND ZENAIDA ARCOS PACK FOOD AT ST. NORBERT’S FOOD DISTRIBUTION CENTER IN ORANGE. PHOTOS BY CARLOS AVILES/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“You’re going to see her busy all the time and she doesn’t stop moving and before she starts packing food, you’re going to see her mopping, sweeping or watering the plants,” said Michelle Navarro, the program coordinator. “She never stops moving, she never sits down, it’s incredible.”
And that is why U.S. Congressman Lou Correa, who represents parts of Orange and other cities in the House of Representatives in Washington D.C., recently gave her a recognition.
“It was an honor to recognize Zenaida for her volunteer work,” the congressman told OC Catholic en Español. “This program is truly special and has a real impact on those most vulnerable in our community—something that is only made possible through the dedication of volunteers like Zenaida.”
For the soft-spoken Zenaida, the recognition gave her a lot of satisfaction.
ZENAIDA ARCOS WALKS WITH HER SON IGNACIO JULIAN AT ST. NORBERT PARISH IN ORANGE.
“I feel very happy,” she said, of receiving the special honor.
When asked if coming to the food distribution center gives her purpose, she answered, “That’s it. You hit the nail on the head.”
Her eldest son, Ignacio Julian, agreed that volunteering gives life and meaning to his mother, as he sees her healthy, smiling and happy.
“She’s always been like that,” he said. “That desire to always help her children and others is what makes her always like to serve.”
A LIFE DEDICATED TO HER CHILDREN
Zenaida first visited the United States in 1958 and was pregnant at the time, according to her son. She enjoyed her brief time in Texas but returned home to start her family.
She went on to have 9 children and in the 1970s Zenaida and her children emigrated from Guerrero to Mexico City, where they dedicated themselves to earning a living selling traditional Mexican sopes or “street food.”
Thanks to the sale of those small thick corn tortillas, which are pinched at the edges so that they can be filled with various ingredients like shredded chicken and refried beans, she managed to support her family.
Ignacio said that his mother finally emigrated to the United States in 1984, and here she dedicated herself again to being of service to others by taking care of children.
At times, Zenaida would take a break from her job here to travel back Mexico every year to visit her children, who were adults and living on their own.
“My mother is a blessing for me, because not many people reach the age she is and be healthy,” Ignacio said with pride. “She took care of us all by herself, and always managed to feed her children.”
A LIGHT IN THE ST. NORBERT COMMUNITY
Many volunteers are inspired by seeing this 92-year-old woman working as if she were about 50 years younger.
“I feel more motivated to come and collaborate,” said fellow volunteer María Ramos. “If she can do it at 90 [years old], then I can do it in my 50s.”
Navarro said that apart from inspiration, Zenaida’s presence is a blessing.
“Especially for the children,” she said. “Most of our volunteers are high school kids. So, it’s nice to see all these age differences coming together for the same purpose.”
Zenaida said she doesn’t remember when she started volunteering at this church, but what she does know is that she has been going for a long time and she wants to continue as long as God allows her to.
“My father, God, gives me strength and as long as I can work, I’m going to work,” she said. “If the day comes when I can’t, then I won’t, but while I still can do it, I have to work.”
The St. Norbert food program is held weekly on Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Fresh nutritious foods (fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, canned goods, beans, rice and bread) are distributed to people arriving by car.
For more information on how to help the program with donations or benefit from it, call (714) 637-4360 or by email at [email protected]