Loira Moore is a Chelsea Trailblazer

Special to the Record

For some, any mention of the date January 6 immediately calls to mind the attempted insurrection by scruffy white nationalists at the U.S. Capitol in 2021. For Loira Moore and many members of the Chelsea community, it means something more hopeful and celebratory: Three Kings Day. El día de los Reyes Magos. The final day of the Christmas season, marked by events honoring the gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—that the three magi delivered to the baby Jesus in the manger.

Among the original residents of Spencer Green, the housing complex owned by The Neighborhood Developers (TND) at the corner of Spencer and Eleanor Streets on the eastern slopes of Chelsea, Loira is involved in any number of community-building activities. “At the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Spencer Green seven or eight years ago, a man I’d never even met identified me as a leader,” she remembers. “Ever since then it seems like I’ve been the go-to person at Spencer Green for anyone with a question or a problem—from broken light fixtures to quarrels between neighbors. Just ring my bell if you want something done.”

Loira has been a major force behind the annual Bosson Block Party, held each summer in Chelsea’s eponymous Bosson Park. She has also organized events celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. And, although not yet a leader of the group, she was recently named a Chelsea Trailblazer by the Chelsea Black Community group, consisting of a mixture of Afro-Caribbean folks like herself (she’s from Panama) and African Americans who have been an important presence in the city for years. Rumor has it that Loira is currently scheming another community-building activity—for now an undisclosed secret. But it’s the Three Kings Day celebration that brings out the best of Loira’s creativity and love of community action.

It is so important to her that  anyone who stands in the way of her putting on a full Three Kings celebration—as someone who shall remain nameless did one year—is liable to hear her say, “Papacito! Por favor!”

It all started several years ago, when Melissa Walsh was still working as community-building manager for TND. “Melissa was very concerned with the well-being of families in the neighborhood,” says Loira. “She liked to make things happen, and she could really push people to participate for the benefit of all. I was happy to be persuaded to do that.”

Before the pandemic, Loira was known to use Melissa’s support—and that of a fellow who donated supplies from BD’s Discount store—in orchestrating an elaborate event. She’d hold it in the Community Room at Spencer Green, where neighbors from the 48 units in the complex, many of them from Puerto Rican families and almost all from Latin-American cultures, could indulge in the familiar fiesta de navidad. She produced this Christmas pageant in the TND office at the corner of Gerrish and Broadway in Chelsea one year, putting up decorations and offering gifts for all. One memorable year, she offered the celebration in full regalia at a nursing home on Central Avenue in Chelsea.

For that latter production, Loira cooked a meal for the whole nursing home, featuring pernil (pork shoulder), roast beef, chicken, and the works. There was the traditional rosca, too, the festive ring of yeast bread, infused with candied fruit, raisins, milk, anise, cinnamon, and vanilla, in which a tiny figurine of the baby Jesus is baked. (Blessings on the lucky person who finds the baby Jesus in his or her slice of bread.)

She assembled gift bags for the residents of the nursing home—presumably not including gold, frankincense, or myrrh. She even wrote a play for the party, and then assigned starring roles to TND staff. She had José Iraheta, the associate director of community building, play Joseph. Mike Sandoval, the community services administrator for the Department of Public Works in Chelsea, also had a role, as did the cousin of Gladys Vega, director of the nonprofit La Colaborativa. Loira got Sharon Fosbury, by then the successor of Melissa Walsh as director of the TND community-building office—and in Loira’s seasoned judgment “a real motivadora”—to play Mary.

Though it has not been possible to produce a full-scale Three Kings celebration during the pandemic, Loira—or Panamá, as she is sometimes known—has managed to offer a simplified version for people in her Spencer Green neighborhood. This year, on the first anniversary of the notorious insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, she put together gift bags for the kids playing outdoors in the snow that had been falling all day. There were the edible treats, of course— cookies, chips, and candies. This being the pandemic, she also slipped a single plastic face shield and a sheath of handwipes in each bag.

But each bag also contained a pencil. “I believe in education, education, and more education,” she says. “We have used the Community Room at Spencer Green as much for after school study hall—for students who don’t have computers in their apartments—as we have for our regular meetings.”

Her own daughter, now working at a daycare, excelled at Excel Academy in Chelsea and went on to graduate from a teacher training program at Wheelock College. In spring 2022, Loira herself, who has worked, she says, “since I was 10 years old in Panamá” and for many more recent years as a data entry administrator for the Mass Rehab disabilities agency, will soon finish a program in management at Bunker Hill Community College and think about applying to bachelors degree programs.

“Estudia, trabaja, sé gente primero,” she says, quoting the concluding lyrics of the song “Plástico” by the great Panamanian political-activist salsa singer Rubén Blades. Study, work, and be good people. “Allí está la salvación.” There’s your salvation.

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