On a recent spring morning in late March, North Hills resident Elentina Sanchez looked out the window of her modest home and was greeted by blue skies and bright sunshine — but the beautiful weather did little to lift her wilting spirits. Overcome by a sense of sadness, she impulsively walked out her front door to try to escape her despair by wandering the streets, as she had done many times before.

But on this particular day her solitary walk was cut short. As Sanchez reached the sidewalk she suddenly heard a friendly female voice say, “Hello. Can I give you a hug?”

She looked up to see the smiling face of Maria Ramirez, who was on a mission with fellow parishioners from Our Lady of Peace Church and School to “love it forward” in the local community by performing random acts of kindness.

With tears in her eyes Sanchez gratefully accepted the hug, later recounting to The Tidings, “I felt like God had put her in my path. It was exactly what I needed.”

Ramirez was among scores of Our Lady of Peace students, parents and churchgoers, together with friends and community partners, who participated in the parish’s first-ever “Love it Forward” event.

Participants were encouraged to go out and approach random strangers at nearby shops, supermarkets and street corners to offer an unsolicited act of kindness “simply because” — with the hope of starting a growing ripple effect of people “loving it forward,” explained Julie Picot, director of marketing and development for OLP School, who spearheaded the effort.

“We are so isolated nowadays, more than at any time in history. We can travel around the world so easily, yet people just aren’t as connected [to their communities],” said Picot.

“We want this event to remind people what’s important in life — it’s all about love. Love is powerful and it makes a difference. And every time we give we get way more back. It’s a way to live your faith in action.

“For the people [this event] touches in the community, we hope it starts a ripple effect, because when somebody is kind to you then you’re more likely to smile at the next person you see — and that’s what we want for our community.”

Upon arriving at Our Lady of Peace the morning of the event, participants received a paper with over 100 ideas for acts of kindness, including zero-cost options, such as starting a conversation with a homeless person or helping someone carry their groceries to their car.

Other ideas involved small monetary investments, such as buying someone a cup of coffee or donating new socks to a shelter. They were also encouraged to hand out business cards and stickers printed with the phrase “Love It Forward” to the people they met, with the suggestion that they help another person.

Following the allotted time period of 90 minutes, dozens of the participating men, women and children returned to the parish hall at 12:30 p.m. for free food and refreshments and a chance to share their experiences with their fellow do-gooders.

For eight-year-old Destiny Morales — who, alongside her mother and siblings, greeted customers exiting a local supermarket and offered to help them with their groceries — the Love it Forward event was a way to “give thanks” for the many blessings in her life.

“Today I really wanted to come to this event because I wanted to give thanks to God, because I feel like I’m so lucky to have food and clothes and a place to live, and there are a lot of people who are homeless and don’t have food to eat or somewhere safe to sleep at night,” the talkative third-grader told the group.

Ramirez invited her new-found friend Sanchez to the parish gathering, introducing her to her fellow parishioners and sharing the jovial atmosphere and fellowship.

“When I saw her, she just looked so sad that I had to approach her,” recalled Ramirez.

“I’m so glad she did,” chimed in Sanchez. “And I’m so happy to be here instead of being out on the streets alone. It was such nice surprise.”