by Ryan Myers
February 22nd tweet from @jrodleal, nine days into Austin’s historic winter storm, power outages, and water shortages:
“The chingonas at @veracruztacos have blown me away. They’ve provided 1000s of free meals to various community orgs and hospitals [Feb 16 – Feb 25], expecting absolutely nothing in return.”
Well, maybe only one expectation…
Many of you already know some of the history of Veracruz All Natural. My wife Reyna and her sister Maritza started the business in 2008 in a tiny trailer in East Austin selling snow cones and natural juices. They had both immigrated to Austin from Veracruz, Mexico a few years prior with their mother, Mom Reyna. It was the three single Latina women in a new country starting a new life, and the business was key to their fresh beginning.
They were poor in Mexico, living without running water, so everything in Austin felt extravagant to them, and the sacrifices they had to make to start their business and keep it running the first few years were nothing new. Both Reyna and Maritza worked full-time jobs apart from their new business, and would take turns sleeping on the floor of their food truck just so they could keep it open. Their mother cleaned houses. They were persistent, sometimes going months without power in their apartment because they couldn’t pay their bills, but they consistently kept the window to their food truck open.
Reyna and Maritza started Veracruz All Natural without any loans nor debt. From the food truck itself to all of the equipment inside, they bought everything with money from their own pockets. The sisters continue to live frugal lives today, understanding that excess doesn’t equal happiness, and that financial freedom allows greater opportunities for community outreach. As a husband and brother-in-law I could not be more proud of my wife Reyna and my sister-in-law Maritza for their accomplishments as businesswomen and their community philanthropy, and my pride only swelled further seeing how they both stepped up and helped those in need during our latest central Texas snowstorm.
Some may call their behavior rash. I call it intuitive. I call it initiative. We woke up that post-Valentine’s Day Monday morning to at least 6 inches of snow and came to find out that 5 of the 6 business locations were without power and/or water. Immediately Reyna and Maritza mobilized. Both Sunday in preparation of the storm, and Monday and Tuesday we spent a large portion of each day redistributing inventories from all of the locations to the one that still had power and water, The Line Hotel. Unplowed, icy roads made travel extremely dangerous. In preparation of the storm a team of 6 employees were already staying at the hotel starting Sunday, ready to open Monday morning, and by the end of the week that team grew to 12 employees, not only including both Reyna and Maritza, but Lydie (Director of Business & HR), Maritza’s daughter Lis and her husband Corey, and Mom Reyna.
The Line Hotel was filled to capacity, with no one able to leave because of the closure of the airport. The other food venues inside the Line were closed, so Veracruz All Natural was the only refuge for food for hotel guests, and became a refuge for 100’s of locals without power. By the end of Monday the team was exhausted. By midday Tuesday the team was even more drained and we knew we had to do something different, not only for the team’s health but also due to the possibility that many Austinites would continue to be without power and water for many days with another storm coming.
We decided to start handing out free food to Austin locals every afternoon, and soon after that sponsors started to contact us. The more we gave out, the more other organizations wanted to help. It was beautiful. It was the definition of community. The final tally of tacos handed out to the community was 4,650, not only given out at our Line Hotel location to locals in need, but also delivered to local hospitals, schools, community centers, and first responders.
We expect one thing in return, and that is a continuation of the same show of compassion towards our fellow humans even when we aren’t suffering through a disaster. To do this we must connect. We must connect with one another in meaningful ways. We must connect in empathic ways that allow us to see from other’s perspectives, that encourage us to let go of judgement, and that motivate us to be more compassionate. It is connection that fights racism, sexism, and other evils against humanity.
As a country we are continually haunted by our exploitative past, taking advantage of people and the earth for wealth, and whether we want to admit it or not it still permeates our society today. Dehumanization is an unfortunate societal norm as our search for convenience, property, and platform often overshadows our desire for real connection. Ironically, in a world where we are more connected through technology, we may be at our most disconnected state. We hide behind cyber anonymity in order comment, diatribe, review, and say things we would never say to someone in personal conversation, especially if we had taken the time to know that person’s lived experiences better.
We are so proud of how our local community came together in the wake of this recent disaster. There are so many selfless local heroes to thank. We are proud to be Austinites, and we believe Austin is a unique city that offers degrees of open-mindedness, tolerance, and kindness other metropolitans do not. We hope for connection. We hope for empathy. We hope for compassion. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all of you, both organizations and customers, who donated to help us feed Austinites in need.