Local seniors and home-bound residents are receiving made-to-order meals from a new kitchen supported by TEP.

Last summer, TEP provided a $25,000 matching grant to help Mobile Meals of Southern Arizona kickstart fundraising for a facility upgrade. The successful campaign has supported renovations and restoration efforts that will allow the 50-year-old nonprofit organization to potentially quadruple its service.

“We’re grateful to have this new kitchen to boost our ability to go out into the community and work with partners to address food insecurity in Southern Arizona,” said L’Don Sawyer, Executive Director for Mobile Meals.

Mobile Meals was founded by dedicated doctors and their spouses, who realized that some patients were returning home from the hospital without a reliable food source. In the beginning, they cooked and prepared the meals and delivered the food to patients. Later, Mobile Meals relied on a variety of hospital kitchens to make the food that was delivered by dedicated and caring volunteers. But the hospitals collectively had limited capacity and capped out at 100,000 meals annually.

In 2021, Mobile Meals had the opportunity to purchase the former El Indio restaurant on South Sixth Avenue. The fundraising campaign helped the group upgrade the building’s facilities to support its operations.

By running its own kitchen, Mobile Meals can now offer patients a menu of choices, catered to their medical needs and tastes, with a centralized location for volunteer pickups.

With the new kitchen, the organization will eventually be able to grow to serve 400,000 meals annually. Currently, the organization serves about 150 meals a day, relying on a rotation of 240 volunteers to deliver to clients – sometimes the only face a patient will see on a daily or weekly basis.

TEP supports Mobile Meals because its work aligns with our commitment to community vitality. Our company and employee volunteers regularly partner with organizations that serve seniors and address food insecurity, including Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and Pima Council on Aging.

Jared Dang, a Lead Pricing analyst at TEP, is one of Mobile Meals’ volunteers. During the pandemic, Dang was looking for volunteer opportunities that he could do safely from home and learned about becoming a virtual schedule coordinator. Because he was working from home, Dang was able to take breaks to answer calls and check emails for Mobile Meals. Since then, Dang has continued the occasional coordinating and has also delivered meals in person.

“Mobile Meals is a very rewarding organization to volunteer for and the clients they serve really appreciate the volunteers. The kitchen has made it easier for volunteers to help,” Dang said. “They are always looking for folks to deliver meals so I encourage those with some flexibility in their Monday-Friday schedule in the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. timeframe to volunteer once a week or even once a month.”

The new kitchen’s impact continues to grow. Sawyer, who started in her role in December, hired a food services director and a dietitian to better serve clients’ needs at the new kitchen.

“With the new kitchen, we can now offer our clients a choice of menu items,” Sawyer said. “Providing options and having the food delivered by a caring individual make a big difference for those who are home alone. This kitchen, along with TEP’s donation, allows us to carry out this important work.”

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