Super Woman: Family, Volunteers and City Officials Surprise Gladys Vega on Her Birthday

It’s been a long three months for Gladys Vega – leading an organization that has focused on social justice and immigration issues for the last 20 year, but pivoted to being a key provider of basic food for 11,000 residents every week as COVID-19 hit the city hard.

It has been a day-in and day-out existence of taking in deliveries of food at the Chelsea Collaborative on Broadway, getting it sorted and organized, and then getting it out the door.

Councilor Melinda Vega Maldonado delivers a surprise birthday cake to her mother, Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega, on Broadway last Friday morning. The informal party sprung up from a drive-by Car Parade down Broadway – with Chelsea Police leading the way, scores of decorated cars driving by and even a semi-truck loaded with onions from the Produce Center filing by. Unknown to Vega – whose organization was preparing for their normal COVID-19 food distribution that day – friends and co-workers placed a thrown on the sidewalk for her to sit on as the procession filed by.
After three months of unending work to feed and help those on the margins in Chelsea, it was an emotional and happy surprise.

Then repeat.

So, last Friday, everyone around Vega – including volunteers, City officials, family and even the Chelsea Police – decided she needed a break. And it came on her 53rd birthday.

“It was a beautiful surprise,” she said. “I was inside the office rushing everyone around to take the boxes out so we could distribute them, but no one was paying any attention to me. I was like, ‘We’re going to be late,’ ‘It’s going to be hard,’ and ‘We told them we would give them something today.’ Then I came out and it was this. It’s amazing. I had no idea; a tremendous surprise.”

Outside on the sidewalk in front of the Collaborative was a giant throne surrounded by bouquets of fresh vegetables and fruit – made out of the food that has been distributed so frequently since late March.

Fighting back tears and laughing at the same time, Vega was completely overcome with emotion.

Then came the Car Parade with dozens of cars led by the Chelsea Police – including a semi-truck from the Produce Center loaded down with pallets of onions.

One very sentimental moment came when a woman and her children came to say ‘Happy Birthday to Vega – a woman who had no food after COVID-19 hit and no way to feed her family over the last three months except by coming to the Collaborative.

“That women said that she comes here twice a week and we feed her and her family,” said Vega. “She said we have given her the food she needs and she couldn’t get it. We began all this on the porch of my house and never thought it was going to last more than three months, and we’ve been feeding people pretty much on a daily basis. We’re feeding approximately 11,000 a week for COVID-19. It’s been huge. Every time we need donations, they just come in. We’re going to keep doing this until people can become a little more stable.”

And after a cake with her family, including Councillor Melinda Vega Maldonado, it was back to work to do the day’s distribution.

“I think I will celebrate tonight, but just quietly and with a few volunteers,” said Vega. “That’s it.”

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