In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the City of Huntsville is highlighting the work of volunteers, leaders and organizations that have made a significant impact on the City’s Hispanic/Latino populations.
There are plenty of heroes and heroines among us who work tirelessly to make the world a better place. Flora E. Tapia-Johnson is one of those people, though she’s humble about her contributions.
“I just try to take care of everybody,” she said. “If someone needs a resource and I don’t have it, I look for it.”
A native of Panama, Tapia-Johnson came to the United States with her husband, an Air Force officer who now works in missile defense at Redstone Arsenal. They have four adult children and three grandchildren.
When asked about her home country, Tapia-Johnson explained she is proud of her roots. She said Hispanic Heritage Month allows her to share that pride with others.
“This month makes me excited because of the way I personally feel about my country,” she said. “Everybody can have the same feeling I have for my country, but I love saying how beautiful and wonderful my country is. It’s so beautiful; I can’t even describe it.”
Prior to relocating to Huntsville, the couple lived in Montgomery as Tapia-Johnson’s husband was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base. It was there she began to develop her passion for volunteering.
For nearly 30 years, Tapia-Johnson has been a dedicated volunteer for the American Red Cross. One of her proudest moments as a Red Cross volunteer occurred after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“I was doing blood service, and we were just trying to get enough blood to send up to help those people,” she said.
As a Red Cross volunteer, she’s helped those affected by hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. She’s also offered aid after tornadoes, flooding and residential fires.
Her true passion, though, has been helping the Hispanic/Latino community in the Huntsville region. And while she said there’s plenty of work to do here, she often travels across the southeast taking necessities to families in need.
“There’s so much need in this community because it’s hard for (Hispanics/Latinos) to find resources, and when they do, people are not helpful,” she said. “They get the runaround, or they hear they are ineligible. And it’s not always just the Latinos; Black people contact me, too.”
Those who need help the most are those with physical challenges and who are mentally ill. Tapia-Johnson said there are many elderly people who are also struggling.
She said dedicated community volunteers are often the only lifeline available for those in the Huntsville area and beyond.
“If something happened to us, there wouldn’t be anyone to help them,” she said.
All over the map
It’s not unusual for Tapia-Johnson to drive all over the state delivering food and supplies as a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). She’s a founding member and president of Alabama’s first council.
“I’ve driven six hours to Enterprise and Foley to deliver groceries,” she said. “LULAC is statewide and national, so I go if they call me. I delivered 375 toys at Christmas to 250 families. They’re not always big toys, but little gifts so they don’t feel forgotten.”
It’s especially important for her to help children now so they grow up to become productive citizens.
“I see a lot of kids who are struggling,” she said. “I’m afraid when they grow up, they’ll be angry because nobody cared about them when they were little. They never had a time when they could play as a kid because they had to work or do something to help. We need to give our kids that time to be children before they move on and become adults.”
Tapia-Johnson’s other volunteer commitments include serving on the board for the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) and as a Spanish interpreter for the American Red Cross and Huntsville City Schools. She’s also called on by Spanish-speakers who need a translator at medical appointments.