SoCalGas feeds elderly by fueling restaurants

Utility partners with Tulare County EDC to pay restaurants to provide free meals to nursing homes

TULARE COUNTY – Southern California Gas Co. launched a new program last week to feed Tulare County’s most vulnerable residents while fueling some of its hardest hit businesses.

On July 7, SoCalGas presented a check for $100,000 to the Sequoia Regional Economic Development Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Tulare County Economic Development Corporation (EDC), to pay local restaurants to feed nursing home residents once per week.

Saul Espinoza, who has owned El Tarasco Mexican Restaurant in Visalia for 25 years, personally delivered 80 meals to Park Visalia Assisted Living and Memory Care and another 60 meals to Prestige Assisted Living at Visalia along with his wife Maria to kick off the program. The meal, which consisted of steak, chicken, rice, salad and vegetables, was a boost for residents who have not been able to go out for meals, or anywhere for that matter, in more than two months. Maria Nunez, Park Visalia’s lifestyles director, said the residents were excited about having Mexican food.

“It’s a little taste of the outside world for them,” Nunez said. “The variety of food in our community makes it a real treat to have restaurants helping to feed our residents.”

The program, titled “Fueling Our Communities,” will pay El Tarasco to provide 500 meals free of charge to nursing home residents over the next 13 weeks, providing an injection of cash into their business. Paul Saldana, executive director of the EDC, said restaurants were one of the sectors most affected by ever-changing state guidelines and one of the first places many residents cut back on their spending as they lost income due to furloughs and layoffs. Several programs were launched nationwide to raise money for restaurants to feed vulnerable populations but many were too expensive, so county and city governments declined to participate. The partnership with SoCalGas offered a streamlined way to ensure money went directly to restaurants to prepare meals that went directly to those who need it most.

Saul said the additional orders mean more work which means bringing more employees back full-time. Saul estimated the nursing home orders would allow him to bring an additional seven employees back to full-time work.

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Saul Espinoza, owner of El Tarasco, stands with is wife Maria to kick off the “Fueling Our Communities” which will pay El Tarasco to provide 500 meals free of charge to nursing home residents over the next 13 weeks.Photo by Reggie Ellis

“Sure it helps me as an owner, but it really helps our workers,” Saul said. “This means more money for our cooks, food suppliers and the community.”

El Tarasco was one of 11 restaurants that have signed up to deliver meals to 29 facilities in Exeter, Porterville, Tulare and Visalia, as of press time. The EDC is still looking for restaurants and nursing homes to join the program.

Restaurants and nursing homes interested in participating in the program can sign up at http://www.covid19bizassist.com/local-assistance.

Mayor Bob Link said the program was an exciting way to help businesses that are always giving back to the community but have been hard hit by the pandemic.

“Restaurants are the livelihood of our community,” Link said. “Visalia is known for its restaurants and we need to support them because they support our community so much.”

Not making dinner once per week will also help assisted living facilities catch their breath. Lynn Sharp, dining services director for Park Visalia, said COVID-19 guidelines have forced his staff to serve residents in their rooms, which extends every meal by a few an hour or two.

“The staff never gets a break because they are preparing meals all day long,” Sharp said. “This will give us a chance to do more deep cleaning.”

El Tarasco even accommodated the facility’s low-sodium requirements.

“We don’t have dietary restrictions like a hospital or convalescent home, but they still took that into consideration,” Sharp said.

Colby Wells, spokesperson for SoCalGas in Tulare County, said the program was created by the gas company’s public affairs and communication staff who were looking for ways to reallocate community spending that in many cases had already been budgeted. He said most of the money was slated for sponsorship and donations to events that were all canceled due to the pandemic.

“We knew restaurants were struggling and nursing homes were hit hard by the virus,” Wells said. “We wanted to come up with a way to let both of those people know we care about them and our community.”

Wells said the $100,000 in Tulare County is part of a half million SoCalGas is donating across six counties including Kern, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties. In each county, the program pays restaurants to provide meals, but who gets those meals was tailored to target populations with most need. In Tulare County it was seniors, but in Kern County it was students, families who have lost their businesses in Ventura, and migrant farmworkers in Imperial County. The $500,000 donation by SoCalGas will provide close to 140,000 meals to 40,000 individuals from underserved communities in 44 cities throughout the rest of the summer months.

“As the summer season is approaching and more areas are reopening, we must keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and there are many vulnerable populations in need,” said Andy Carrasco, vice president of strategy and engagement, and chief environmental officer at SoCalGas. “Through the ‘Fueling Our Communities’ initiative, SoCalGas hopes to help fill an essential need by providing meals while helping local businesses as well. We are thankful for all the amazing organizations and community leaders who have stepped up and joined us to give back to those who need it the most.”

In addition to the EDC, SoCalGas is working with other charitable partners throughout the other six counties including:

  • Family Service Association (FSA) – Banning, Cabazon, Calimesa, Hemet, Jurupa Valley, Moreno Valley, Perris, Riverside, Corona and San Jacinto in Riverside County and Chino, Colton, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Joshua Tree, Loma Linda, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Rialto, San Bernardino, Upland, Yucaipa and Yucca Valley in San Bernardino County
  • The American Legion – Brawley, Calexico, Calipatria, El Centro, Holtville, Imperial and Westmorland in Imperial County
  • Food Share – Oxnard and Santa Paula in Ventura County
  • Kern Economic Development Foundation – Arvin, Bakersfield, California City, Delano, McFarland, Shafter, Taft, Tehachapi, Wasco in Kern County

“Kern Economic Development Foundation is pleased to have been selected by SoCalGas for this fantastic program to support our local economy by supporting local restaurants, while also feeding those in need,” said Richard Chapman, executive director for Kern Economic Development Foundation. “We are thrilled to have Community Action Partnership of Kern working alongside us to implement this program which will provide thousands of meals to Kern County residents over the next few months.”

In addition to supporting the ‘Fueling Our Communities’ events, the utility has donated more than $2.5 million to nonprofit organizations to support the region’s workforce, feed the hungry, provide bill assistance to customers, and more as part of their COVID-19 recovery efforts. Together, the Sempra Energy family of companies – including SoCalGas’ sister California utility San Diego Gas and Electric, and the Sempra Energy Foundation – have donated more than $12.5 million to those in need during this crisis.

Headquartered in Los Angeles, SoCalGas is the largest gas distribution utility in the United States. SoCalGas delivers affordable, reliable, clean and increasingly renewable gas service to 21.8 million customers across 24,000 square miles of Central and Southern California, where more than 90 percent of residents use natural gas for heating, hot water, cooking, drying clothes or other uses. Gas delivered through the company’s pipelines also plays a key role in providing electricity to Californians— about 45 percent of electric power generated in the state comes from gas-fired power plants.

For more information about SoCalGas’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit www.socalgas.com/coronavirus.

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