First published in the March 26 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Gloria Salas knew she needed to find a way to help.
Charitable organizations deploying aid to Ukraine told the Burbank resident to send money; the situation on the ground was so volatile they weren’t yet sure what its people needed. But Salas, a longtime local volunteer and activist, wanted to do more. She called a Ukrainian church in Hollywood, which sent her a list of items its members wanted to send to the country. Before long, Salas was organizing a Burbank drive to gather donations.
It was just another example of Salas’ commitment to service, for which Assemblywoman Laura Friedman honored her as Assembly District 44’s woman of the year during a ceremony at City Hall on March 18.
Salas is the past president of the Zonta Club of Burbank Area — a volunteer organization dedicated to advancing women’s rights — and its lieutenant governor-elect for Zonta International’s ninth district. She also serves as a moderator of St. Francis Xavier Church’s Peace and Justice ministry, an executive board member of Burbank for Armenia and a member of the Burbank Human Relations Council.
For Salas, all those positions and service opportunities stem from one thing. “The need,” she said in an interview with the Leader. “When I was listening to the news about Russia coming into Ukraine, and when they actually invaded, I thought, ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen? What are we going to do?’”
That question has sparked a number of Salas-organized initiatives, from crafting hygiene kits for homeless women to giving presentations on human trafficking. Salas said she’s volunteered in various capacities since high school when she helped send supplies to U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.
Friedman, whose district includes Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge and Los Feliz, said her office was unanimous in voting to recognize Salas.
“Everybody wants Gloria to be by their side and to be on their committee and on their board,” Friedman said at last week’s event. “Everybody knows her drive, her heart — which is huge — and that her work for vulnerable populations never discriminates. She’s always available.”
Representatives of other organizations, including the Burbank City Council, the Zonta Club and St. Francis Xavier Church also gathered to honor Salas, despite her insistence that she had help all along — “If I did this alone, I’d be dead,” she said. But Nikki Perez of the Zonta Club told guests that while it does take an entire organization to hold an event, it also takes a committed leader.
“She truly … has been an inspiration for Latinas, young Latinas like myself in Burbank, for young Catholic women like myself or young women trying to do good in the world,” Perez said.
True to form, when Salas took the stage to accept her award, nails painted in the blue and yellow hues of the Ukrainian flag, she couldn’t help but highlight upcoming charitable events. Among those was a donation drive for those in Ukraine, an event sparked by a need noticed and a phone call. It will occur from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on April 3 at the Burbank Association of Realtors’ parking lot.
Noting that such events often stem from collaborative efforts, Salas emphasized that takes more than one person or even a small group to change how society views the marginalized.
“There are some of us who have more than others, some who have way less,” she added. “And I think it’s up to us who have more to help those who are disenfranchised — and that means women, people of color, children — wherever we find ourselves in our circumstances.”