MARICOPA — Eloy mom and pop restaurant La Paloma has been serving up their fusion of Mexican and American food to hungry customers from all over Pinal County since they opened in December of 2018.
Co-owners and husband and wife team George and Elizabeth Flores ran the successful family-style restaurant until the shutdown hit in March and, since then, they’ve had little use for their resources as business owners — until they got a call, that is.
Blanca Varela, District director for Congressman Tom O’Halleran, was on the line calling Elizabeth for a favor. She had just hung up with Rudy Cota, O’Halleran’s Veteran Services Representative, who had just finished a phone call with Kandi Tillman, a veteran’s advocate and Pat Tillman’s sister-in-law. Tillman, in turn, had just spoken to Council Member Julia Gusse and Vice Mayor Nancy Smith.
They were all calling with the same urgent need, F.O.R. Maricopa Food Bank was under siege, inundated by those in need as a result of recent job layoffs and grocery store shortages. With the food bank up 30% in patronage over the last two weeks, they were running low on essentials.
Varela knew where she could go for help.
“She asked if there was any possible way that we would be able to help Maricopa Food Bank — because they were having difficulties getting a delivery — and if we would be able to order through our vendors to assist them,” Flores said. “So that's what we did. We placed the order for them, and then we delivered (it) to them.”
Gusse relayed the needs to Flores, who put in an order with Shamrock Farms for 14 dozen eggs, 9 bags of beans, 8 bags of rice and 29 cereal boxes — enough to feed 400 people for a month. The total came to a little over $1,700, and the bill was split between Gusse and Smith without question.
“Right now all the places like Fry's aren't selling in bulk,” Gusse said. “We needed a place to purchase from (and) they were willing to use their restaurant as a placeholder.”
Originally Gusse had tried to enlist the National Guard for transport of the food, but when that didn’t work out, La Paloma again stepped in to deliver the goods all the way to Maricopa with one of their trailers.
“We do have some of our customers that come from Maricopa,” Elizabeth Flores said. “We'd like to thank them too. We know they’d make the trip out here for us.”
Gusse said the donation wasn’t a hard decision to make between her and Smith. They knew from their time volunteering at the food bank that it was a need, and with the new CopaCares program in full effect, they felt the urge to help out personally.
“You know, (we’re) moms and we're both volunteers with the food bank here,” Gusse said. “We just thought, ‘Hey, we need to do something to make sure that we're feeding this amount of people,’ not only are they still having to feed the normal amount of individuals that come through the food bank, now they’ve had to increase it by 120 more mouths to feed.”
This wasn’t Gusse’s first donation however, she had already donated cleaning wipes to Maricopa police to help keep their cars sanitary while transporting individuals.
“I think the entire country is hurting, especially small communities like ours,” Gusse said. “It's very difficult, it's always said the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but we're never squeaky enough.”
Donations can be dropped off outside F.O.R. Maricopa’s entrance or inside Ace Hardware and monetary donations can be made online at formaricopa.org.