The SouthSide Ambassadors have had to change the way they operate since the start of the pandemic to adhere to safety protocols. This seven person team works to keep SouthSide Bethlehem clean. (Courtesy of Hector Lopez)

Q&A with Hector Lopez, manager of operations for the SouthSide Ambassadors

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Hector Lopez is the manager of operations for the SouthSide Ambassadors. The SouthSide Ambassadors are a team of seven Bethlehem residents formed by a national organization called Block by Block. Block by Block is based in Louisville, Kentucky, and provides services in the areas of cleaning, landscaping, safety, placemaking, parks, outreach, transit and hospitality.  The SouthSide Ambassadors  are focused on improving the quality of life in the Southside through providing safety, cleaning and hospitality services.

Q: How have you and your team been impacted by the pandemic?

Hector Lopez: A lot has changed with respect to how we run our program. Our corporation, Block by Block, implemented new safety protocols that included staggering schedules and shifts, so that we didn’t have more than two people working at the same time. It created a bit of a scheduling challenge. They issued some sanitizers to help deep-clean our office to make sure that after each team member was in the office, they disinfected every surface. Fortunately, we had some materials here already because of our everyday activities. We had masks and gloves here and were able to buy disinfectants through our organization. Because of the lack of people, the amount of trash we collected dropped dramatically. We got weeks ahead of schedule.

Q: Has there been a change in pace or workload because of the pandemic?

HL: In the very beginning, we went about our regular schedule. We would spend about an hour or an hour and a half picking up the trash first thing in the morning. The soda cans and the pizza boxes and the other little pieces of trash, but that just wasn’t there. There was no one out. The workload changed and shifted and because of that, I had to adjust the schedules of my team members. There was no need for my team members to stay after about 4 or 5 p.m. because the work outside is about 80 or 90 percent of what we do.

Q: What safety protocols have you and your team had to employ recently?

HL: We still stagger our shifts. Every team member is required to wear a face mask all day, everyday, both in the field and in the office. Every day the office is sanitized, gloves are still integrated in our daily activities. Although, now the team is wearing winter gloves.

Q: How has your team been impacted by the recent inclement weather?

HL: We are still cleaning up the snow from the initial storm two weeks ago. Our primary focus when cleaning up snow is to clear the access ramps on the sidewalks to make sure they are accessible. We had to adjust the schedule to prepare for the snowstorm and take action as soon as possible. What we’ve noticed in the past is that if we clean the access ramps immediately after the snow falls, when the streets are cleaned, access ramps can get blocked. We normally take about two days cleaning our area before clearing out access ramps to allow time for the streets to be cleaned.

Q: How has the pandemic impacted the image of the community?

HL: The small businesses around here took some obvious hits. We try our best around here to try and keep it clean. With the businesses around here, I know the managers personally. When they took a hit, they were trying everything they possibly could to continue their business. They followed the suggested guidelines to try and stay open and get people to come in. Because of that, we wanted to make sure that everything was in tiptop shape. This summer, with the outside dining, the trash started to climb. In the past, restaurants would have their own silverware or glassware and then come out to collect that. But everything now is to-go containers, plastic forks, paper plates and  styrofoam. So what we noticed is, around the restaurants that had outdoor seating, our city cans were getting filled a lot quicker. We incorporated some plastic bins with our logos on them to address the issue of trash build-up, because we didn’t want the cans overflowing while restaurants were trying to make money. 

Q: Is there anything you would request from the community that could help out you and your team?

HL: The masks. In the beginning, there were masks and latex gloves everywhere and we have to address that. The masks, we still see quite a bit and we have the tools to pick them up. But, it was so scary in the beginning, we didn’t even know what to do with the tools that we used to pick these up. We were spraying them down and sorting them away for a week. If folks could just be more conscious about their masks, that would go a long way.

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